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Volcano erupts in Guatemala, killing at least 25

A fiery volcanic eruption in Guatemala sent lava flowing into rural communities, killing at least 25 as rescuers struggled to reach people where homes and roads were charred and blanketed with ash.

The death toll rose late Sunday with 18 bodies found in the community of San Miguel Los Lotes, disaster agency spokesman David de Leon said, adding to the seven victims previously confirmed elsewhere earlier in the day.

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At least 20 people were injured, and authorities have said they feared the death toll could rise with an undetermined number of people unaccounted for.

Guatemala's Volcan de Fuego, or “volcano of fire,” exploded shortly before noon. About 4 p.m., lava began flowing down the side of the mountain. Eddy Sanchez, director of the country's seismology and volcanology institute, said the flows reached temperatures of about 1,300 degrees.

Dramatic video showed a fast-moving lahar, or flow of pyroclastic material and slurry, slamming into and partly destroying a bridge on a highway between Sacatepequez and Escuintla.

Video images on Sacatepequez television showed a charred landscape where a lava flow came into contact with homes. Three bodies lay partially buried in ash-colored debris from the volcano, which is about 25 miles from Guatemala City.

Other videos from local media showed residents walking barefoot and covered in muddy residue.

“Not everyone was able to get out. I think they ended up buried,” Consuelo Hernandez, a resident of the village of El Rodeo, told the newspaper Diario de Centroamerica.

“Where we saw the lava fall, we ran to a hillside” to escape, she added.

Hundreds of rescue workers, including firefighters, police and soldiers, worked to recover bodies from the still-smoking lava.

Firefighters said they had seen some people who were trapped, but that roads leading to the area were cut off by pyroclastic flows and that they had been unable to reach it. In darkness and rain, the rescue effort was ordered suspended until early morning, municipal fire agency spokesman Cecilio Chacaj said.

Among the fatalities were four people, including a disaster agency official, killed when lava set a house on fire in El Rodeo village, Cabanas said. Two children burned to death as they watched from a bridge the volcano's second eruption this year, he added.

One more victim was found in the streets of El Rodeo by volunteer firefighters, but the person died in an ambulance.

Guatemala's disaster agency said 3,100 people had evacuated nearby communities, and falling ash was affecting about 1.7 million of the country’s 15 million residents. Shelters were opened for those forced to flee.

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“Currently the volcano continues to erupt and there exists a high potential for [pyroclastic] avalanches of debris,” the disaster agency said via Twitter, quoting Sanchez, the director of the seismology and volcanology institute.

It added that he said authorities began to send bulletins on the situation starting at 11:30 a.m.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said he would issue a declaration of a state of emergency to be approved by Congress and urged people to heed warnings from emergency officials.

Ash was falling on the Guatemala City area as well as the departments of Sacatepequez, Chimaltenango and Escuintla, which are in south-central Guatemala around the volcano. Streets and houses were covered in the colonial town of Antigua, a popular tourist destination.

Aviation authorities closed the capital's international airport because of the danger posed to planes by the ash.

The conical Volcan de Fuego reaches an altitude of 12,346 feet above sea level at its peak.

11:05 p.m.: This article was updated with a report of 18 additional fatalities.

8:55 p.m.: This article was updated with firefighters suspending rescue efforts.

8:20 p.m.: This article was updated with details from Guatemala’s disaster agency and President Jimmy Morales.

This article was originally published at 7:10 p.m.

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