ESCUINTLA, Guatemala — A long-simmering volcano exploded with a series of powerful eruptions outside one of Guatemala's most famous tourist attractions on Thursday, hurling thick clouds of ash nearly 2 miles high, spewing rivers of lava down its flanks and prompting evacuation orders for more than 33,000 people from surrounding communities.
Guatemala's head of emergency evacuations, Sergio Cabanas, said the evacuees were ordered to leave some 17 villages around the Volcan del Fuego, which sits about 6 miles southwest from the colonial city of Antigua, home to 45,000 people. The ash was blowing south-southeast and authorities said the tourist center of the country was not currently in danger, although they expected the eruption to last for at least 12 more hours.
Hundreds of cars, trucks and buses, blanketed with charcoal grey cash, sped away from the volcano along the a two-lane paved highway toward Guatemala City. Dozens of people crammed into the backs of trucks. Thick clouds of ash reduced visibility to less than 10 feet in the area of sugarcane fields surrounding the volcano. The elderly, women and children filled old school buses and ambulances that carried them from the area.
The agency said lava rolled nearly 2,000 feet down slopes billowing with ash around the Volcan del Fuego, a 12,346-foot-high volcano whose name translates as "Volcano of Fire."
"A paroxysm of an eruption is taking place, a great volcanic eruption, with strong explosions and columns of ash," said Gustavo Chicna, a volcanologist with the National Institute of Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology. He said cinders spewing from the volcano were settling a half-inch thick in some places.
He said extremely hot gases were also rolling down the sides of the volcano.