‘We need help’: towns at risk as lava flows from Guatemala’s Pacaya volcano

‘We need help’: towns at risk as lava flows from Guatemala’s Pacaya volcano

Each morning, the residents of small communities living around Guatemala’s Pacaya volcano wake wondering if the lava will reach their homes.

One slow-moving flow descending the volcano has advanced between El Patrocinio and San José el Rodeo. In the case of the latter, the lava has advanced to within two and a half blocks of the outermost homes.

Emma Quezada, a 38-year-old homemaker in one of those houses, has lived there her entire life and said she was used to the volcanic activity. Still, this time she was afraid.

“These last three days the lava stopped; we hope it stays there,” Quezada said.

Local authorities had spoken to residents about moving the community to another location about 62 miles (100km) away, but without the space they have now, she said.

“As if you’re going to go from here to a little piece of land!” she said. “Maybe we don’t have a great thing here, but we live in blessed peace, we don’t face any other danger, not even thieves … The options they give you don’t compare with what we have here.”

The Pacaya volcano rises 8,372ft (2,552 meters) between the departments of Guatemala and Escuintla, south of the capital. It is a popular tourist destination and 21 communities surround it.

In early February, a chasm opened in one of the volcano’s flanks and lava began to flow, now stretching at least three miles (5km). Meanwhile ash and gases spewed from its crater.

Even if the lava doesn’t reach their homes, the ash has damaged their corn crops and the pastures where their cows graze.

El Rodeo is home to 57 families, about 350 people, said Juventino Pineda, the president of the Urban and Rural Development Community Council.

Pineda, 67, can recall various eruptions during his lifetime. “One of the worst was 1962. I was a child and lava also came out of a fissure in the volcano – that time it was 20km of lava,” he said.

This time, Pineda said, “we believe that at least 50% of the homes in the community would be destroyed because of the lava’s path”. There is an evacuation plan if the situation worsens.

“At night, when the volcano erupts, everything turns red, everything shines. It looks like day,” Pineda said.

Approaching the lava you can feel the ambient temperature rise. There’s a light sulfur smell and you can hear a crunching.

“It’s important to know that we need help. Maybe someone can help us on the international level,” Pineda said.

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