Guatemala Volcano: Inside an Abandoned Village Buried Under Ash

The village of San Miguel Los Lotes was almost completely engulfed by tons of ash spewed out by the eruption of Guatemala's Fuego volcano.
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Guatemala Volcano: Inside an Abandoned Village Buried Under Ash Carlos Jasso/Reuters

The village of San Miguel Los Lotes has been almost completely engulfed by tons of ash spewed out by the eruption of Guatemala's Fuego volcano. The volcano rumbled to life early in the morning on Sunday, June 3. By midday, it was spewing miles-high columns of ash that then fell, dusting a wide swathe of the Central American country.

In the afternoon things took a turn for the worse. Tons of ash propelled by scalding, toxic gases poured down Fuego's flanks. These "pyroclastic flows" hit much faster, more lethal speeds than lava, dragging trees and giant rocks down onto villages in their path.

Many villagers had made a fatal bet to stay put, gambling that the luck that had protected them for decades would hold once again. By the time most families in San Miguel de Los Lotes knew what was happening, they only had time to run, if that. Sunday family lunches were abandoned, the food left on the table.

As the burning volcanic matter rushed at them, some escaped on foot, others by car. "I took out the pickup truck and escaped with a lot of neighbors when we saw the smoke," Alejandro Velasquez, 46, a farmer, told Reuters.

Others ran through bushes and leaped across barbed wire and wooden fences to reach the main road of the town of Escuintla, near Los Lotes. Now, everything in the previously lush, green landscape is coated in thick layers of sepia-colored volcanic ash, giving the place the eerie feeling of a ghost ship. Where once there was life, there is now heat, dust and a lingering smell of sulfur.

Rescuers searching for bodies walked on the roofs of houses as if they were floors, digging down into buildings where they have found only corpses of those who stayed behind. Only a few dogs, chickens, rabbits and cats survived.

Photos show ash-covered food left on the tables in darkened kitchens. Children's toys lie abandoned in the brown dust. A bible, its pages singed by the heat, is seen on a destroyed home.

At least 110 people died and close to 200 are thought to still be buried under the rubble in the village on the fertile lower slopes of the volcano.

—Reuters contributed to this report.

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Ash-covered toys are seen on the roof of a house in San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla, Guatemala. Carlos Jasso/Reuters