(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –Rescue workers struggled in perilous conditions to find bodies under rivers of ash and mud that swept down from Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, as the number of fatalities from an eruption that partially buried buildings rose to 69.
Structures and trees at the base of the Fuego volcano were completely coated in brown and grey.
A policeman wearing a blue surgical mask stumbled in the muck as he ran from a cloud of ash pouring down the slope behind him.
The eruption of Fuego — Spanish for “fire” — on Sunday was the biggest in more than four decades, forcing the closure of Guatemala’s main international airport and dumping ash on thousands of hectares of coffee farms on the volcano’s slopes.
Guatemala’s national disaster agency CONRED said the death toll was 69, however officials said just 17 victims had been identified because the intense heat of the volcanic debris left most bodies unrecognisable.
Nearly 2,000 people are in shelters and more than 3,200 have been evacuated from the areas near the volcano to the west of Guatemala City.
Earlier, bodies were pulled from the ash around the village of El Rodeo which was hard hit by the eruption.
Local media were also reporting more bodies had been found, though it was unclear whether more people died in a second eruption on Monday morning (local time).
The task of pulling out bodies was halted after the new eruption and an apparent landslide on the southern slopes of Fuego triggered fresh evacuations.