Fuego Volcano’s Eruption in Guatemala: An Insider’s Tale and How You Can Help

On June 3rd, 2018, Fuego Volcano which overlooks Antigua Guatemala erupted. It left 192 missing and 75 people dead. Over 3000 people were evacuated. It’s the deadliest volcanic eruption in Guatemala since 1929.

Source: BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-44378775.

What follows is Lourdes Diaz’s account of what happened. She lives in Antigua and was hiking Acatenango, an adjoining volcano shortly before Fuego’s eruption. She’s worked part-time at Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel for several years and I asked her to share her personal account of what happened and what it’s really like from an insider’s perspective.

I have been hiking Guatemala’s volcanoes for years now. Add that to the fact that I live in Antigua and have friends who love hiking and running and what do you get? Well, people like me who go to Acatenango volcano often on weekends just as a fun training place or to spend a Sunday when you have nothing else to do.

Acatenango is the dormant (not inactive) twin of Fuego volcano, they are both attached and it is easy to reach Fuego from the Acatenango Route

This was exactly what happened on June 03 2018. A day earlier a friend who had never been to Acatenango asked me to go with her. She wanted to see if she was fit enough to hike a volcano. I said yes. So he picked me up at 4:30 am and off we went.

Fuego volcano eruption from Acatenango Volcano Guatemala
View from the trails of Acatenango Volcano as the eruption started.

When we got to La Soledad village, from where the hike starts, we noticed that there was ash from Fuego volcano on the cars parked there. We didn’t think anything of it. It’s a common thing here. We double checked our backpacks to make sure we had the essentials, then started hiking.

During the whole hike, we could hear Fuego Volcano rumbling. But again it’s a common thing so we won’t worried.

We were chatting so much that before we knew it we were two-thirds of the way up. But by the time we reached a small viewpoint I noticed that even though the crater of Fuego was supposed to be hidden behind the Acatenango summit, the fumarole (an opening in a volcano, through which hot sulfurous gases emerge) kept getting bigger and bigger. This was definitely not normal.

Fuego volcano eruption Guatemala
When it all started to get scary. Ashes were lower than I’d ever seen them. | Photo courtesy of Pablo Melgar

While we were at the viewpoint, the column of ash got huge and started to scare me. After a short rest, the wind suddenly changes and the huge column of ash started coming lower and lower until it completely covered us. We weren’t able to see anything.

This was when I told my friend that it was not a good day to keep hiking. A bit disappointed we started our way back home.

She dropped me off at my mom’s house in Antigua where I had lunch with my whole family. Suddenly the sky went back as if it was the night. And we heard the pitter patter sound of rain on the roof.

As any good Latin mom would do, she ran to the terrace to bring in all of the freshly washed clothes. That was when she noticed. That sound wasn’t rain!  It was tiny stones.

Fuego volcano eruption from Alotenango Guatemala
The darkness that came with a rain of ash and stone. When the sun came out again, the damage was done. | Photo courtesy of Pablo Mergar

This is when it all happened. We started hearing about the horrible eruption going on. Tourists were being evacuated from Acatenango, and lahars (destructive mudflows from a volcano) descending from the volcano. On the T.V we saw photos of hundreds of people being buried by hot ashes. Others who were curious and wanted to see the eruption from nearby bridges were also swept away by the lahar.

It was a mess!

Sorting and preparing thousands of donations as they arrived at our main headquarters in Guatemala city. | Photo courtesy of Max Hernandez

So at the same time, I started getting messages from the team at Sin Rumbo an adventure tour operator that the owner was teaming up with another tour company owned by friends called Lucianos. They started gathering donations and handing them out to the survivors.

That’s when all of the logistics and hard work really started!

Volunteers starting to arrive. Ready to go help out organize donations in the huge warehouses of Alotenango town. | Photo courtesy of Max Hernandez

Since that day and for over a week, work consisted on receiving, sorting and preparing donations in Guatemala city during the day, summoning volunteers through social media, and driving trucks loaded with donations to communities where all of the survivors were being kept.

Then at night, the team would organize all of the volunteers to go help out at a public school working as a warehouse to receive donations. The place was pure madness with tons of trucks being downloaded with donations and no one to organize it, to sort it out and hand it out to the people in need.

It as one of the most intense weeks I’ve ever been through, most of us trying to balance work and volunteering.

Work was still done by the team the following week.

Volunteers at work. Making sure the donations reach the people who need it. | Photo courtesy of Max Hernandez

With thousands of now displaced people who lost their homes in the eruption, the government buildings dedicated to hosting them were not enough. So other families from nearby towns offered their homes to host some of them too. We started getting word from them that they also needed food and clothing. Se we focused most of our efforts to help them.

There were also a few tiny villages which didn’t get swept away by the volcano but their crops were destroyed by the hot ash.   Only 4 x 4 vehicles could reach them. We also sent some donations to them.

But now, the main issue is, where are those families going to live now? To start with, these were poor towns. People were already struggling to make a living. Now, they don’t even have homes.

Most lived off of the land. The area devastated by the volcano was declared a place where no one should live due to the danger. Not to mention that everything is destroyed. There is no way they can return.

Donations being handed out to villages were crops were lost and roads destroyed around the volcano. | Photo courtesy of Max Hernandez

The government released special funds to build some homes but decided that the military should take care of the project. If you know anything about Guatemala you know that not only we don’t trust our government but we also have no respect or trust for the military. They have proven for decades to be extremely corrupt and for keeping large sums of money to themselves.

So finding a way to help with building homes is a tricky business. If you are moved by this tragedy and would like to help, I would strongly advise against making any donations through our government. There are a few organizations out there with reputable names that have announced projects to help construct as many homes as they can to relocate those displaced by the eruption.

The hard work continues. It doesn’t end until all those people have not only a home but a way to make a living. Donations have slowed down, but they are still needed, there are still thousands sleeping on the floor, with no jobs or possessions.

Bodies are still being found, but it is thought that there are still hundreds of buried bodies under the ash.

Here is a video with images of what went down. Sadly I couldn’t find any in English or with subtitles.

Fuego Volcano's Eruption in Guatemala: An Insider's Tale and How You Can Help

Lourdes Profile

Lourdes is a soon to be lawyer from Guatemala with the mission to explore each corner of the country. Her favourite activity is hiking along with exploring mountains, forests, caves, volcanoes and all that the region has to offer. Her goal is to reach as many summits around the world as she can. You can also find her on facebook, twitter and instagram.

 

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