New explosion at Guatemalan volcano

A firefighter is seen while he is searching along with other firefighters for their missing colleague in the area affected by the volcanic eruption in Alotenango Guatemala

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A powerful explosion sparked a mass evacuation Tuesday, June 5, of areas already devastated near Guatemala's Fuego volcano, which officials said has killed at least 73 people since it first erupted over the weekend.

The National Coordination for Disaster Reduction of Guatemala (CONRED) said as of 9:00 p.m. local time the death toll had risen to 69, and 653 people have moved into shelters, Xinhua reported.

The searing hot volcanic material that covered communities near the volcano left numerous bodies unrecognisable so DNA testing or other methods will be necessary for identification.

The explosions billowed ash more than 5,000m (16,000ft) above sea level, with Guatemala's seismology and volcanology institute warning that there is a moderate flow of unsafe material down the volcano - with the possibility of a strong flow in some areas.

A telegramme addressed to Archbishop Nicolas Thevenin, the Apostolic Nuncio in Guatemala by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin on behalf of the Pope, said Francis was "deeply saddened to learn of the news of the violent eruption of the Volcano of Fire, which has claimed numerous victims, caused enormous material damage and affected a significant number of people who live in the area".

In a bulletin yesterday, the institute said the blowing ash could reach heights of about 20,000 feet above sea level.

Dozens of people were seen walking along roadsides carrying children or a few belongings beside paralyzed traffic in parts of Escuintla township south of the volcano. It warned civil aviation authorities to closely monitor and take precautions regarding air traffic. Rescuers were evacuated from those areas with the new flows Tuesday afternoon.

The eruption on Sunday sent columns of ash and smoke 10 kilometres into the sky, blanketing several regions.

"My respects to you heroes without cloak", one said.

Officials say a total of 192 people remain missing, but the search for bodies in mountainous areas destroyed by the eruption has been progressing slowly.

The institute said there was a moderate flow of risky volcanic material down the volcano, and warned of the possibility of a strong flow in some areas.

Figures for the dead were tweeted by Guatemala's National Institute of Forensic Sciences.

However, the prospects of finding any more survivors was poor, he said. Hernandez lost 36 family members in all, missing and presumed dead in the town of San Miguel Los Lotes after the fiery volcanic eruption of the Volcan de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, in south-central Guatemala.

The volcano has been in eruption since 2002.

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