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Five Things to Know About Guatemala’s Deadly Volcanic Eruption

The massive blast is affecting nearly 2 million people, and more may still be in store

Rescue workers walk on rooftops in Escuintla, Guatemala, Monday, June 4, 2018, blanketed with heavy ash spewed by the Volcan de Fuego, or "Volcano of Fire." (Associated press)
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Yesterday, Guatemala’s Volcán de Fuego erupted, unleashing deadly avalanches of hot rock, lava, ash and gas that killed at least 33 people and injured hundreds more, Ed Adamczyk and Danielle Haynes report for UPI. Ash clouds billowed nearly 33,000 feet into the air, raining out sharp shards of rock. As UPI reports, local authorities are saying the event is affecting nearly 2 million people. Here are five things to keep in mind about this latest eruption.

Fuego and Kīlauea Are Very Different Volcanoes

The Fuego volcano eruption is a magma-driven or magmatic eruption. These most commonly occur in stratovolcanoes like Fuego, which are the classic cone-shaped peaks built from layers of ash and lava rocks. They tend to foster more viscous lava that clogs their plumbing and leads to dramatic explosions like the one that happened yesterday. Such explosive eruptions sends columns of ash and searing rock miles high. The collapse of these clouds causes a deadly avalanche of hot rocks, gas, and volcanic ash that races down the mountainside in a deadly pyroclastic flow.

Kīlauea is a shield volcano—a gentle, sloping dome volcano created by less viscous lava. It more commonly undergoes what’s known as a steam-driven or phreatic eruptions. These are still dangerous but produce far less ash and explosive power.

Fuego Is a Very Active Volcano

While Volcán de Fuego’s latest eruption is Guatemala’s deadliest in more than 100 years, the eruption was not a surprise, even if its magnitude was. The volcano is one of the most active in Central America. Just last year the mountain erupted over half a dozen times, reports Jessica Suerth at CNN. Since 1580 B.C.E. there have been 79 recorded eruptions.

Those Pretty Photos on Social Media Probably Aren’t From Yesterday’s Eruption

Many spectacular photos of Fuego have been circulating on social media today. While most are real, many are not from yesterday's eruption. Over the course of the past year, intrepid photographers and drone pilots were able to get some incredible images of lava spouting from Fuego’s peak, which many people are now recirculating. (Other images are not even the Fuego volcano.) Images from yesterday’s events are equally dramatic but much more heartbreaking—people fleeing their ash-covered villages, children being rescued by authorities and thick black smoke billowing from the top of the mountain. The reality is much scarier, as many videos show.

The Ring of Fire Is Definitely Not “Waking Up”

Conspiracy theorists and self-proclaimed prophets have declared that the Kīlauea and Fuego eruptions—along with a string of five eruptions and earthquakes in Japan, Alaska, Bali, and the Philippines—are a sign that the Ring of Fire is “waking up.” The Ring is a 25,000-mile horseshoe of active fault lines and volcanoes that hugs the Pacific Ocean from South America up toward Alaska, down to New Zealand.

But geologically speaking, the Ring isn't truly connected. That is, one eruption doesn't spark another. “It’s very unlikely that these things are related,” USGS geophysicist William Yeck tells Bill Hutchinson at ABC News about the volcanic activity this year. What's more, as Yeck explains, the latest activity “isn't unusual.” The Ring of Fire contains 452 volcanoes and about 90 percent of the world’s major earthquakes, and the Earth is constantly rumbling. On average, 50 to 60 volcanoes erupt every year, according to the USGS.

Fuego May Not Be Finished

Even as rescue workers and authorities search for survivors to clean up after the eruption, Fuego may still have more in store. Insivumeh, Guatemala’s national institute for volcanology, is warning people to stay away from the volcano's slopes in case of more pyroclastic flows. They also warn people to avoid ravine or waterways where ash and water can mix to create a deadly mudflow known a lahar, which can speed downslope upwards of 120 miles per hour, sweeping along everything in its path.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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