Over 33,000 citizens living near the "Volcano of Fire" (Volcan de Fuego) in the Central American nation of Guatemala have been forced to evacuate their homes after the dangerous volcano erupted violently today, sending a toxic ash cloud over three kilometers into the air and belching out rivers of hot, molten lava down its flanks.
Sergio Cabanas, the head of the country's emergency response administration, says the entire population of at least 17 villages near the volcano were evacuated, adding up to over 33,000 citizens. The nearby colonial city of Antigua— long a popular destination for international tourists— has remained in the safe zone—but experts warn that could change at a moment's notice.
The active volcano—known as Acatenango to the local populace—spewed a lava stream of more than 2000 feet down the slopes of the mountain. The ash cloud produced by the initial explosion has already drifted for miles and ash measuring up to an inch and a half has fallen to the ground in areas near the volcano. The emergency response agency warns that airplane flights in and out of the country may be affected by the ash cloud.
A large portion of the country is under an orange alert—the second highest warning—with communities within the immediate vicinity of the volcano under the more serious red alert. Experts and scientists anticipate that the volcano could continue to erupt over the next few days or as long as a few weeks.
The eruption is a part of a serious uptick in seismic activity in the region since a powerful 7.9 earthquake rocked nearby Costa Rica last week, sending panicked citizens into the streets. Only five days ago, an eruption of the San Cristobal volcano in nearby Nicaragua caused evacuation orders for almost five thousand residents, and several volcanoes in Costa Rica have had their alert levels elevated in the days since the temblor after experiencing increased activity.