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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

At least 25 killed as Guatemalan volcano erupts

Powerful eruption was the second major one this year

At least 25 people were killed when Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted on Sunday.

"The toll was 25 dead as of 9pm [local time],” a spokesman for the National Co-ordinator for Disaster Reduction said in a WhatsApp group, according to AFP.

The powerful eruption, the second major one this year, forced ash, molten rock and thick smoke in lava flows down the mountainside, forcing the authorities to close the nearby Guatemala City international airport.

Those killed were from farming communities just south of the volcano who were trapped by the flows, National Disaster Relief Agency spokesman David de Leon said. He added that several children were among the dead.

At least another 20 people have been injured, and more than 3,000 removed from the area near the volcano and a number of other cities, including Antigua. More than 1.7 million people had been affected. The Spanish colonial-era city is Guatemala’s top tourist attraction.

Search and rescue operations for the missing and dead were suspended due to poor light and dangerous conditions, and will resume early on Monday morning, said Mr de Leon.

Farmers covered in ash fled for their lives as civil defence workers tried to move them to shelters during the eruption.

Dense ash blasted out by the volcano, which rises to 3,763 metres.

President Jimmy Morales announced a red alert for Escuintla, Chimaltenango and Sacatepequez, the areas most affected by the eruption, and an orange alert throughout the country.

The president said he and his government would determine whether to ask Congress to declare a state of emergency in the areas, while at the same time appealing to the population for calm.

Mr Morales said hundreds of personnel from the police, Red Cross and military were dispatched to support emergency operations.

Later, the national co-ordinator for Disaster Reduction chief Sergio Cabanas said that one civil protection official died. He did not rule out the number of dead increasing, as there are "missing persons, but we do not know how many".

The country has two other active volcanoes, Santiaguito in the west and Pacaya just south of the capital.