Family buries five relatives killed in Guatemala volcano eruption

Authorities say nearly 200 people are still missing after late warning to flee

A woman mourns beside the coffin of a victim of the Fuego volcano, during a funeral, at the municipal cementery of Escuintla, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, on June 8, 2018. The threat of fresh landslides forced emergency workers Thursday to suspend a search for victims of a major eruption of Guatemala's Fuego volcano, the country's disaster management agency said. To date, 109 people are known to have died in Sunday's major eruption of the volcano, with nearly 200 more still reported as missing. / AFP / ORLANDO ESTRADA
Powered by automated translation

Stunned Guatemalans near the Fuego volcano on Friday buried relatives and friends killed in its most violent eruption in four decades, after dangerous flows of ash, rocks and toxic gases in the morning prompted panicked locals to evacuate.

At least 109 people were killed by a massive eruption on Sunday that buried villagers in scalding ash, gas, with some dying later in hospital from their burns.

A series of blasts since have spewed more deadly, fast-moving flows down the slopes, but have not caused more casualties since authorities have evacuated most residents.

Nearly 200 people are still missing after Sunday's blast and many family members assume they are dead.

On Friday afternoon, the Garcia family buried five relatives who died in the eruption that sunk many homes in brown ash.

"I sometimes think that this is like a dream, but this is the reality," said Concepcion Garcia, a farm worker, as he helped bury his brother at a cemetery in Escuintla near the volcano's base.

The family from nearby San Miguel los Lotes was accustomed to hearing the rumbling of the volcano, whose name means "fire", so initially brushed off the noise of Sunday's eruption, he said.

Authorities later admitted they were late in warning locals to flee.

In two of the canyons where flows have accumulated, columns of ash rose as high as 6,000 metres, according to a Friday morning statement from Guatemala's volcanic institute.

"The (flows) carry hot vapour, including fine particles similar to cement, two- to three-metre diameter rocks and tree trunks dragged out by the current," the statement added.

The flows sparked panic among rescue workers still in the area, as well as volunteers and police.

Search and rescue efforts were formally suspended on Thursday due to hazardous conditions, though authorities said they could resume if the situation improves.

"If the search is not going to be continued (authorities) should send us help because even if it's just bones, we want our families back," said Eufemia Garcia, 47, a housewife.

She estimated 50 members of her extended family are still missing.