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More than 12,000 people have evacuated from their homes due to the eruption of Volcán de Fuego, which continues to spew fresh torrents of lava and rocks, thick ash and clouds of smoke. The official death toll stands at 99, but at least 197 people remain unaccounted for.
Ana María Méndez, Oxfam in Guatemala Country Director, said:
“Volcán de Fuego is still erupting and we don’t know when it will stop. The area around the volcano is not safe, and it has been too dangerous and too hot to reach most of the communities located downslope from the volcano. We know that two villages were engulfed by pyroclastic flows, a mixture of lava blocks and gases that can reach temperatures up to 700°C. People are working under very harsh conditions and rescue efforts are being severely hampered by the lack of adequate equipment, poor visibility and roads closed due to the ash, lava flows and mudslides. A planned humanitarian assessment had to be postponed due to perilous conditions.
More than 1.7 million people, mainly indigenous communities, have been affected by the eruption, including electricity cuts, collapsed homes and bridges, no access to clean water, ruined crops and areas cut off from main roads. The ash and lava flows are also cutting off the supply of food to the communities surrounding the volcano.”
Oxfam is working with the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction in Guatemala (Conred) and local partner organizations to provide water filters, essential hygiene items and other vital aid to people who have fled or have been evacuated. We are also equipping emergency shelters with industrial kitchens, propane gas cylinders and cooking utensils.
Yesterday an Oxfam team in the affected area was stranded in the community of La Trinidad after streams of scorching water coming down from the volcano cut off roads. Oxfam and partner organization staff were forced to spend the night in La Trinidad. Iván Aguilar, Oxfam in Guatemala Humanitarian Coordinator, said:
“The number of people in emergency shelters doubled from less than 2,000 to 4,000 over the past three days. People in several communities are waiting for heavy machinery to open roads to reach the shelters.
People are afraid, very afraid. Some even had to be evacuated from an emergency shelter when the volcano unexpectedly unleashed fast-moving pyroclastic flows in the area. Right now rainfall is intense, and this could trigger lahars, a powerful type of mudslide formed from volcanic ash and debris, which can reach areas that were not originally affected by the eruption itself.”
Oxfam will continue to focus on delivering safe drinking water and improving hygiene and sanitation conditions for people in emergency shelters. Even though Guatemalan authorities report more than 12,000 evacuees, only 4,000 are currently housed in emergency shelters. Many people have sought shelter with family and friends, but the evacuee-to-sheltered ratio raises great concern, as many people may not have access to basic living conditions.
Besides losing all their belongings, and in many cases family members, communities face great uncertainty about the future. The eruption and mudslides have destroyed homes, infrastructure and farms. Oxfam’s response will include supporting those affected to rebuild their livelihoods, through a comprehensive humanitarian response that advances women’s rights and empowerment, delivered in collaboration with its partner organizations in the country.