Hundreds of Guatemalans flee deadly volcano

Guatemala City – Hundreds of Guatemalans were in shelters Friday after a powerful eruption at the southern Pacaya volcano killed one person and forced the international airport to close.

Ash blanketed the region as rocks and lava spewed for about four hours from the volcano 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, injuring dozens of people. Three children aged seven, nine and 10, were also missing in the area, officials said.

On Friday, the volcano was calm and shrouded in thick fog.

President Alvaro Colom late Thursday issued an emergency decree lasting at least 15 days for the three departments nearest the eruption, which began Wednesday night.

La Aurora International Airport was closed to ensure planes were not flying through the volcano’s hazardous ash cloud or landing on the ash-strewn runway, said spokeswoman Monica Monge. Incoming flights were being diverted to airports in other parts of the country, she told reporters.

Some 1,700 people were evacuated from the slopes of the volcano, which rises 2,552 meters (8,372 feet) above sea level in the tropical Central American nation. They were placed in shelters.

The burnt body of television journalist Anibal Archila was found near the volcano by a colleague, who said the reporter had been unable to escape the raining rocks and other projectiles thrown out in the eruption.

Within a 100-kilometer (62-mile) radius of the volcano, locals armed with brooms and shovels scrambled to remove sand and ash from the roofs and courtyards of their homes.

"We’ve only cleaned the backyard so far and we’ve already filled a large garbage bag," Isabel Estevez told AFP. She and her husband began cleaning the sediment dumped by the volcano, up to five centimeters (two inches) thick in some places.

The Education Ministry also suspended classes in the three departments affected by the emergency decree, which facilitates the allocation of resources and funding to the disaster response.

The head of the national seismological institute, Eddy Sanchez, warned that lava would continue to spew out at high altitudes.

There are 288 volcanoes in Guatemala, eight of which are active.

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