One of Central America’s most active volcanos has erupted in fiery explosions of ash and molten rock, killing at least 25 people and injuring nearly 300 while blanketing nearby villages in heavy ash.

An undetermined number were missing, and authorities feared the toll could rise. Guatemala’s Volcan de Fuego, Spanish for “volcano of fire,” exploded shortly before noon local time. Hours later, around 4:00pm, lava began flowing down the side of the mountain.

Eddy Sanchez, director of the country’s seismology and volcanology institute, said the flows reached temperatures of about 700 degrees Celsius.

Video images published by Sacatepezuez television showed a charred landscape where a lava flow came into contact with homes. Three bodies lay partially buried in ash-coloured debris from the volcano, which lies about 44 kilometres from Guatemala City.

Other videos from local media showed residents walking barefoot and covered in muddy residue. “Not everyone was able to get out. I think they ended up buried,” Consuelo Hernandez, a resident of the village of El Rodeo, told the newspaper Diario de Centroamerica.

Ms Hernandez said when she “saw the lava fall, we ran to a hillside” to escape. Hundreds of rescue workers, including firefighters, police and soldiers worked to recover bodies from the still-smoking lava.

Firefighters said they had seen some people who were trapped, but roads leading to the area were cut by pyroclastic flows and they had been unable to reach it. In darkness and rain, the rescue effort was ordered suspended until early morning, municipal firefighters spokesman Cecilio Chacaj said.

National Disaster Coordinator Sergio Cabanas said seven people were confirmed dead and an unknown number were unaccounted for. Among the fatalities were four people, including a disaster agency official, killed when lava set a house on fire in El Rodeo village, Mr Cabanas said.

Two children were burned to death as they watched the volcano’s second eruption this year from a bridge, he added. Another victim was found in the streets of El Rodeo by volunteer firefighters, but the person died in an ambulance.

At an ad-hoc morgue in the town of Alotenango, at least three bodies lay covered with blue sheets. Guatemala’s disaster agency said 3,100 people had evacuated nearby communities, and ash fall from the eruption was affecting an area with a population of about 1.7 million of the country’s 15 million or so people.

Shelters were opened for those forced to flee.



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