Guatemala's Volcan de Fuego drives thousands from their homes
ESCUINTLA, Guatemala – When Guatemala’s Volcan de Fuego erupted with little warning, a cloud of burning gas and ash swallowed up farmer Lucia’s crops.
Now displaced and living at a shelter in the town of Escuintla, in the Central American country’s western lowlands, her family’s main concern is for their home which survived the eruption.
“My son and husband are sleeping in this temporary shelter and during the day they guard our house from others that could steal our belongings,” says Lucia.
She is among 12,784 local residents living on the slopes of the volcano, who have been evacuated since the first deadly eruption nine days ago, which killed at least 110 people, with nearly 200 still missing.
It is estimated that 5,074 people are being housed in temporary shelters, including churches, schools, cultural and sports centres and town halls in five southern departments of the country. Others are staying with family and friends.
As the recovery operation continues amid rumbling volcanic activity, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is concerned for the more than 1.7 million people now estimated to be affected by this humanitarian tragedy.
“They have told us that the ashes from the volcano in our house are toxic for our baby."
“As soon as volcanic activity subsided and access was permitted, UNHCR mobilized teams to help with assessing the situation and determining needs, by visiting the collective shelters and communities accommodating people who have been evacuated,” UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
Mahecic said assessments are still on-going with a view to getting urgent support to people forced to abandon their homes and property, and whose livelihoods have been affected.
UNHCR is leading the UN’s protection efforts and is coordinating UN agencies and the humanitarian community to improve protection and security in communal areas and sanitation facilities.
“This includes ensuring access to shelters for people with disabilities, supporting pregnant and lactating women, providing psycho-social support and hygiene kits and creating safe spaces for children and women,” Mahecic told reporters.
Rescue efforts were still continuing this week despite ongoing volcanic activity that is bringing continued lava flow, toxic gases, hot ash and rocks. The Volcan de Fuego remains active and UNHCR is concerned that forecast rains could increase the risk of mud and landslides.
The uncertainty is an additional challenge for those currently living in shelters, among them Ana Carolina, a mother of a 17-day-old baby currently staying in the Centro Universitario del Sur, CUNSUR, in Escuintla.
“We have no idea when we will be able to go back home," she says. "They have told us that the ashes from the volcano in our house are toxic for our baby."
You can donate to UNHCR’s response here.