Guatemala: Salesian missionaries begin offering emergency aid and support after devastating Fuego volcanic eruption
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries are responding to needs of residents who were affected by the Fuego volcanic eruption that happened on Sunday, June 3. The head of Guatemala’s National Forensic Sciences Institute has reported the latest death toll stands at more than 100 people with more than 200 still reported missing and nearly 3,000 people wounded and displaced. After the eruption, towns were engulfed by thick, heavy ash.
Residents were caught off guard in the remote mountain villages and had little to no time to prepare or flee to safety. There are entire villages unaccounted for and hundreds are injured. According to CNN, “hot gases, rock and ash raced down the volcano, killing dozens, erasing hillside communities, blocking roads and leaving behind steaming debris that rescuers had trouble navigating.”
Salesian missionaries living and working on the country report that ash has fallen on at least five departments, including Escuintla, Chimaltenango, Quiché, Sacatepéquez and Guatemala. The alarm system was immediately activated and the rescue corps intervened to evacuate the population affected by the natural disaster and to save the injured. However, the lava of the volcano joined a stream of mud generated by heavy rains falling in those areas. This caused the lava to flow faster in the streets, preventing local people from escaping.
Olga González, 46, remembers her escape. “Under there is my father and my niece. The girl had gone to her grandfather and did not come back. If we had waited for her, we would all be dead, so we started running.” Pointing to her burned feet she adds, “She had no time for anything, the lava river was coming over us and we had to run. We could only run and cry without looking back.”
Another resident, Domingo López, 79, locked himself in his house and stayed there until the water vapor made it unbearable, and someone recovered and pulled him out through a window. He suffered severe burns and wounds on his feet.
The Guatemalan army, firefighter volunteers, members of the National Congregation for Disaster Reduction (Conred) and relief groups worked late into the night between Sunday and Monday, but due to the high temperatures and poor visibility, they had to suspend operations to resume it in the early hours of the following day.
Missionaries report that the village of San Miguel los Lotes, located on the slopes of the volcano, was completely covered by volcanic materials. Rescuers have found a number of bodies, but there are fears that there are others hidden in the rubble. The latest available data shows 1.7 million people have been affected and 3,265 have lost their homes. Shelters have already accepted 1,687 people. Salesian Bishop Víctor Hugo Palma, bishop of Escuintla, has been available to give spiritual support and help.
In Guatemala City, the capital, a rain of ashes fell at the time of the eruption and the authorities have advised people not to go out in the streets and to be very careful if driving. The Salesian parish Espíritu Santo has launched a campaign to collect aid, while the Salesian Mesoamerican University has become a collection center where non-perishable food and especially water are received and collected for distribution.
Clothes, non-perishable foods and water collected will be delivered to Caritas of Guatemala, which will be responsible for distributing the items to the needy. Salesian missionaries in the country have seven centers that have all been engaged in helping with relief efforts.
“Salesian missionaries live among the residents of villages and communities they serve, so they are always ready to respond in times of emergency and crisis,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “They also remain when other relief leaves. After a disaster, missionaries will continue to rebuild communities, helping people to rebuild physical structures as well as rebuild their livelihoods through education and skills training.”
Salesian missionaries working and living in the country have been providing for the basic needs of Guatemala’s youth while helping to break the cycle of poverty in their lives. They work extensively with poor youth and their families at youth centers, orphanages, parishes and primary and secondary schools, as well as technical schools, vocational training workshops and two universities. Additional social and educational programs help provide for youth living on the streets and those living in poor indigenous communities.