Hundreds flee Guatemala volcano

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Hundreds of Guatemalans have been forced to flee their homes, amid an eruption by one of the country's most active volcanoes.

Pacaya began spewing lava, rocks and debris on Thursday, leaving one person dead and three children missing.

At least 1,600 people have fled the eruption, some 30km (19 miles) south of the capital city.

The volcano covered parts of Guatemala City in ash, forcing the closure of the country's main international airport.

Image caption,
Planes and runways were covered in the ash from Pacaya

Officials said La Aurora airport would remain closed into Saturday, and flights were being diverted to other parts of the country.

One resident of the village of Calderas, next to the volcano, told the Associated Press news agency how she and her family had hidden under beds and tables as stones fell on her home.

"We thought we wouldn't survive. Our houses crumbled and we've lost everything," said Brenda Castaneda.

Residents of Guatemala City were concentrating on clearing up a film of ash said to be up to 7cm thick in some areas.

One man was killed when he fell from the fourth floor of a building while sweeping up the ash.

Reporter killed

President Alvaro Colom declared a state of emergency in Escuintla region, Guatemala City and areas surrounding the capital.

"The emergency system has been activated and is working as planned," he told reporters.

Image caption,
About 1,600 people have been evacuated from their homes

Officials said TV reporter Anibal Archila had been killed by falling rocks from the volcano; three children were said to be missing.

At least 1,600 people from villages near to the volcano were evacuated - with officials saying 600 had been housed in temporary shelters.

Officials estimated that 800 homes had been damaged and 100 homes had been completely destroyed.

Experts said the volcano's activity decreased on Friday, but warned that another major eruption was possible in the coming days.

The government is advising people in the capital not to leave their homes unless there is an urgent need.

Pacaya has erupted intermittently for decades - the last major eruption was in January 2000.