GUATEMALA CITY – Authorities in Guatemala declared a red alert and evacuated around 4,000 people early Monday after the Central American country’s fiery Fuego volcano erupted for the fifth time this year, sending bursts of ash and lava down the mountain.
Memories are still fresh of the volcano’s eruption in June which swept away villages and left nearly 200 people dead and 235 missing.
The volcano last erupted in early November without causing damage but experts have become increasingly concerned about renewed activity inside the volcano since Sunday.
A spokesman for Guatemala’s disaster management agency CONRED said it decided to evacuate the municipality of Escuintla and two other districts. Some 4,000 people were taken to temporary shelters as a precaution.
Dozens of residents are being sheltered in tents at a sports stadium in Escuintla.
The spokesman, David de Leon, said the eruption became increasingly violent after it began Sunday morning, leading to fears for the safety of the thousands of people who live on the slopes of the 3,763-meter (12,246-feet) mountain.
A column of ash rose about 1,000 meters above the crater and areas west of the volcano — 35 km (22 miles) from Guatemala City — were under a barrage of gas ash and fiery rocks, the Conred said.
The state’s institute of volcanology said it was concerned the ash particles from the volcano could reach the colonial tourist city of Antigua Guatemala.
The institute’s director, Pablo Oliva, said the volcano was expected to remain “at a high to very high level” of activity, but was unable to say when it would subside.
A previous eruption, on Oct. 12-13, was characterized by increasingly loud booms and lava flow. On that occasion, 62 people were evacuated from their homes as a precaution and a highway around the mountain was closed.
Many of those evacuated on Monday said they had feared a repeat of the deadly June eruption.
“We were scared and that’s why we evacuated,” said Miriam Garcia, from the village of El Rodeo which was largely spared the deadly eruption.
“You have to get out as soon as possible because when that (volcanic material) comes close, you no longer have time to leave, even if you run, because it comes very fast,” said Oscar Juarez from El Rodeo.
Activity inside Guatemala’s two other volcanoes, Pacaya and Santiaguito, has increased in recent months but they have not entered the eruptive phase.
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