Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fuego Volcano in Guatemala Forces Evacuations

The very frequently active stratovolcano in Guatemala, Mt Fuego (Mountain of Fire) has begun eruptions that have forced the evacuation of some 33,000 residents from nearby towns and villages. Last week a powerful explosion took place that produced minor pyroclastic flows and deposited ash on nearby towns, but today's eruption was much more powerful, producing rocketing clouds of gas and ash that forced the immediate evacuation of the surrounding area, and producing ash clouds reaching over two miles into the sky.

The volcano has not erupted with this intensity since at least 1999, a Guatemalan volcanologist stated, who is  familiar with the volcanoes history.

Fuego is one of Guatemala's most active volcanoes, and has been in near constant eruption since record keeping began when the Spanish colonized the area in 1524.

The main dangers of this volcano are from pyroclastic flows, which can reach incredible speeds on land, and even more so over water; lahars, a deadly mixture of water, ash, rock and debris that can inundate and crush entire villages off of maps; and ashfall over cities which can cause major respiratory problems for people, and animals who inhale the fine glassy shards that make up volcanic ash.

Currently, ashfall is falling about 25km from the summit, but that will likely increase if the eruption becomes more intense.

In this scenario, people would be advised to wear breathing masks. If you do not have a breathing mask, breathing through a wet cloth will do just as well, if not better. Eye protection such as swim goggles is also highly advisable, as the fine ash will also irritate the eyes to the point that you cannot see and are in a lot of pain. People should avoid being outdoors if possible, and seek higher ground if it is raining. Rain and ash are a deadly combination.

If you have supplies such as batteries, flashlights, tents, etc, you should be in good shape. No doubt the people in Guatemala are used to living next to this volcano, so I am sure they have gone through these drills before. It will be curious to watch and see if this volcano increased in intensity, or decreases in the coming weeks.

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