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Guatemala declares emergency as volcano erupts

Officials declare a state of emergency as the Pacaya, volcano near the capital, spews rocks and ash, killing one reporter and injuring at least 65 people.

May 29, 2010|By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Mexico City — — Guatemala's capital was under a state of emergency and its airport closed Friday after the Pacaya volcano spewed black ash for miles in the southern part of the country.

Television reporter Anibal Archila who had been covering the eruption was found dead by colleagues after being caught in a blizzard of rocks and debris.

More than 65 people were injured and hundreds of homes damaged, according to news reports. Officials said three children between the ages of 7 and 12 were missing.

The volcano started erupting Thursday, hurling lava and rocks and raining thick ash over Guatemala City, the capital, about 20 miles away.

President Alvaro Colom declared a state of "calamity" in two provinces of the Central American country and opened emergency shelters to accommodate some of the more than 1,700 residents evacuated from villages around the volcano. Schools were closed.

Colom cautioned residents against going outside and told motorists to avoid the eruption zone because a layer of volcanic sand covered highways.

The capital's La Aurora International Airport, closed because of the ash clouds, was to remain shut for 20 hours. Colom said the runway had been covered by an inch of volcanic sand. Cleanup efforts were underway.

"We have to have calm, maturity, and do only what is essential while we see how the event evolves," Colom said in a statement. He was set to tour the zone Friday.

Homes and cars in the capital were covered by a messy black coat. The government issued cleanup instructions, telling residents not to wash the sand into drains to avoid clogging them.

Mountainous Guatemala is dotted by volcanoes, and the 8,373-foot Pacaya is among eight that are active.

Pacaya, the centerpiece of a national park, has been active almost continuously for 45 years, making it a popular site for tourists. Big eruptions in 1989 expanded the crater and sent ash as far as 50 miles. Pacaya last blanketed the capital with ash in 1998.

In South America, a volcanic eruption in Ecuador forced the evacuation of three villages. There were no immediate reports of fatalities.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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