Disasters & Accidents

Lava streams threaten residents on slopes of Guatemalan volcano

By Emiliano Castro Saenz

San Vicente Pacaya, Guatemala, Apr 14 (EFE).- Streams of lava from Guatemala’s Pacaya continue to flow in the general direction of two villages perched on the slopes of the 2,552 m (8,373 ft) mountain.

More than two months since the start of the latest of Pacaya’s 23 documented eruptions over the last five centuries, the Guatemalan government remains without a plan to evacuate the roughly 2,200 inhabitants of El Rodeo and El Patrocinio should it become necessary.

As witnessed by Efe on Wednesday, the slow-moving currents of lava are less than a kilometer away from some homes in the municipality of San Vicente Pacaya, just 40 km (25 mi) south of Guatemala City.

In a meeting planned for Wednesday, the El Patrocinio community council will urge municipal authorities to activate the area’s emergency operations center.

“We are more than 500 families,” El Patrocinio council chairman Carlos Donis, 50, told Efe. “We see the intensity of the lava grow more pressing, which puts at risk more than 500 families who can be devastated.”

Magali Roque, who has lived in El Patrocinio for three decades, said she has never seen “anything equal to what we see now.”

The lava has already wiped out avocado and coffee plantations on the slopes of Pacaya.

A spokesman for Guatemala’s Conred disaster management agency told Efe that it is impossible to predict the behavior of the volcano or the lava.

“We cannot determine how far the rivers of lava will advance,” David de Leon said. “The inhabitants of El Patrocinio and El Rodeo could be affected soon, but the flow could also be directed toward some ravines created hundreds of years ago by the volcanic activity.”

Amid the worries of residents, the spectacle of the eruption and the lava flows is drawing visitors to the mountainside, including Jaime Jimenez, who decided to take advantage of the steam rising from the lava to barbecue a meal for himself and his nephew.

He acknowledged that he wouldn’t have ventured to try it on the other side of the mountain where, according to Conred, the temperature of the flowing lava is anywhere from 400-800 C (752-1,471 F).

“I ask God to take away that thing (the lava), more than anything for the villages. Much has been lost, the harvests, the feed for the animals,” Roque said.

Conred says it will begin evaluating potential evacuation routes in the coming days while monitoring the lava flows.

Pacaya is one of three active volcanoes in Guatemala. Less than three years have passed since 431 people died as a result of the June 3, 2018, eruption of the Fuego volcano in the central part of the country. EFE ecs/dr

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