Hundreds Dead or Missing After Guatemalan Volcano Eruption

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Griffin Sonnemann-Creed, Columnist

On Sunday, June 3, everything seemed idyllic around the Volcán de Fuego. The last major eruption had been several decades prior. Guatemalan citizens went around, completing their day-to-day chores. There was an atmosphere of peace; nobody was expecting the horrors which would be unleashed mere minutes later.

Several hours into the morning of June 3, the ground rippled and the earth shattered as the Volcán de Fuego crackled, magma beginning to leak to the surface. Citizens stood in fear as the volcano churned to life, small spurts of magma beginning to take form at the peak of the mountain. The mountain had already erupted several months prior – people thought that the period of time between eruptions would be longer. They were wrong. As smoke began to funnel out of the hole at the top of the volcano, the lahar, or volcanic slurry, quickly began bubbling to the top, bursting out and quickly sliding down the mountain.

The lahar, a 1,300-degree stream of molten rock, mud, and water, streamed down the cliff sides for about four hours, until a massive eruption shook the entire surrounding area. Stones were catapulted from the volcano, acting almost as a hardened form of hail which could easily kill the unprotected. Flowing lava flew down the mountainside, lighting the nearby forests aflame. A final, massive flood of pyroclastic gases and ash, hot enough to nearly cauterize any person within range to the bone, acted as the last wave as the volcano returned to dormancy.

Guatemalans quickly fled for their lives. Trucks, cars, and wagons were commandeered as people used any method available to escape the horrid black clouds of death. The volcano’s eruption was great enough to catapult ash over 33,000 feet into the air. In videos captured by the locals on their cell phones, many Guatemalans had begun filming and narrating the disaster mid-eruption, but their speaking was silenced by toxic sulfur gases which restricted their windpipes.

With currently 75 dead and 192 missing, according to the BBC, this might be one of the worst eruptions in Guatemala or even Central American history. Entire villages like El Rodeo, situated near the base of the volcano, were completely wiped off the map with speed and ferocity comparable to the infamous Pompeii eruption almost 2,000 years prior. Over 1.7 million people in the country, compared to a total population of 16.58 million, have been affected in some major way by the eruption.

The eruption has been met with an outpouring of support from the international community. According to CNN, neighboring leaders such as Mexico’s President Peña Nieto; Salvador Sánchez, the president of El Salvador; the mayor of Puerto Rico; and the Israeli ambassador to Guatemala have all expressed support for the government in these dire times.

It will take time to rebuild the nation, but it will be difficult due to the sheer damage caused. Current numbers are unable to be surveyed, due to the blockage of much of the area by lava flows, as well as efforts being diverted to find survivors of the disaster. However, judging by the damage caused to local villages, it can easily be assumed to be millions of dollars in damages.