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George Eykyn reports for BBC News
"People have started returning to their homes"
 real 28k

Monday, 17 January, 2000, 04:45 GMT
Volcano eruption forces evacuation

Pacaya shot lava 150 metres into the air Pacaya shot lava 150 metres into the air


By Central America reporter Mike Lanchin

One of Central America's most active volcanoes has erupted in Guatemala, spewing lava and ash into the air and forcing emergency services to evacuate surrounding areas.

Officials said that the Pacaya volcano, located only 25 miles south of the capital, Guatemala City, began eruptions in mid-afternoon after several months of increased activity.

It erupted with such force that lava was sent as high as 3,000ft into the air while enormous clouds of ash formed high above the crater.

Initial reports that more than 50 people were suffering varying degrees of burns have not been confirmed.

By early evening almost 800 people had been evacuated from their homes around the base of the volcano.


People watch from the town Amatitlan People watch from the town Amatitlan

Reports said that the international airport was temporarily closed.

Officials said later that volcanic activity had slowed down. But experts are not ruling out more eruptions and emergency services are still on alert, monitoring the situation.

Spectacle

Residents of Guatemala City watched the lava flow in amazement. Heavy winds carried flakes of ash as far as 30 miles south.

President Alfonso Portillo, sworn in just two days ago, flew over the area in a helicopter to see the impressive spectacle.

A similar eruption of Pacaya - the most active of Guatemala's 32 volcanoes - two years ago left everything in the capital covered in a thick layer of ash, but no serious injuries were sustained and villages evacuated on that occasion soon returned home.

Pacaya increased its activity in the run-up to the New Year.

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See also:
17 Jan 00 |  Americas
In pictures: Guatemala eruption
29 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
Scientists improve volcano prediction
14 Jan 00 |  Americas
Populist president takes over in Guatemala

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