Volcanologist warns of deadly mudslides in Guatemala

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By Daniel Bellamy  with Reuters
Volcanologist warns of deadly mudslides in Guatemala

Scientists are warning of deadly mudslides after Guatemala's Fuego volcano erupted on Sunday, killing at least sixty nine people and the death toll is expected to rise.

"One of the big hazards now are lahars, which are volcanic mud flows. So it's the rainy season over in Guatemala. So if we get heavy rainfall, the loose ash, another pyroclastic material from the volcano, could flow in these mudflows down the volcano and those could be very deadly as well," said Tamsim Mather, a volcanologist at the University of Oxford.

Family members have been desperately searching for the missing in makeshift mortuaries and on streets blanketed with ash.

Guatemala's national disaster agency, CONRED, increased the death toll on Monday as more bodies were pulled from the debris around the village of El Rodeo, which was hard hit by the eruption.

The eruption of Fuego - Spanish for "fire" - on Sunday was the biggest in more than four decades, forcing the closure of Guatemala's main international airport and dumping ash on thousands of acres (hectares) of coffee farms on the volcano's slopes.

By Monday evening, the volcano's activity was lessening, and is expected to continue to diminish in the coming days, Eddy Sanchez, director of the seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh, told reporters.

The task of retrieving bodies on Monday was hindered by another eruption and an apparent landslide on the southern slopes of Fuego triggered fresh evacuations.

Later in the afternoon, heavy rains forced rescuers to abandon the search in El Rodeo until the next morning, a spokesman for CONRED said.

As late as Monday afternoon, the volcano continued expelling a dark cloud of gases and rocks.