Emergency crews struggle to find survivors as they face difficulties amid further eruptions.

Municipal firefighters search for victims in the ash-covered village of San Miguel Los Lotes, in Escuintla Department, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, on June 6, 2018.
Municipal firefighters search for victims in the ash-covered village of San Miguel Los Lotes, in Escuintla Department, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, on June 6, 2018. (AFP)

Emergency crews pulled more bodies from what remained of villages devastated by the eruption of Guatemala’s fearsome Fuego Volcano on Wednesday, but time was quickly running out to find survivors as the confirmed death toll rose to 99 with nearly 200 still missing.

Thousands of people displaced by the eruption have sought refuge in shelters, facing an uncertain future and unable to return to homes destroyed by the volcano.

Firefighters said the chance of finding anyone alive amid the still-steaming terrain was practically nonexistent 72 hours after Sunday's volcanic explosion. 

Experts said the volcano recorded several weak explosions on Wednesday, generating a fresh 4,700-metre (15,500 feet) high column of grey ash. 

“The explosions are generating moderate avalanches that have an approximate distance of 800 to 1,000 metres and on their trajectory they are carrying fine material to a height of around 100 metres,” the Volcanology Institute said. 

“There is persistent ash in the environment.”

TRT World's Arabella Munro has more details.

Emergency workers had to temporarily suspend their search late on Tuesday after a new eruption triggered a landslide. 

Hundreds of people were evacuated from seven communities in the Escuintla area near the summit, as panicked locals rushed to their cars to escape, causing chaotic traffic. 

An AFP photographer saw a large plume of ash rise into the sky, prompting an evacuation of everyone authorities could find before the police, the military and rescuers were ordered to stand down.

Ongoing search

Hundreds of rescue workers, including firefighters, police and the military, were battling adverse conditions to search for remains in the tangled morass of rubble, dust and earth left behind by the landslides. 

Firefighters hosed down their smoking boots, which had sunk into molten volcanic material just below the ash surface. 

Everything in the search area was covered in a thick blanket of dust. In the murk created by the dust, police were using red ink to mark homes that had already been searched for bodies. 

More than 12,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, the disaster management agency said, more than 3,000 of them housed in temporary shelters. 

On the slopes Wednesday, local volunteers distributed food to rescue workers. 

“We come in support of the people who are really risking their lives for the people who are there,” said Gladys Vian, a 56-year-old member of the Catholic parish of Escuintla.

Journalist Louisa Reynolds reports from Antigua, Guatemala with the latest.

Strongest in decades 

The killer eruption was the Central American country’s strongest in four decades. 

It sent huge clouds of ash barrelling over the surrounding area, blanketing roads, cars and people in thick grey dust as a river of molten mud carved a path down the mountain, sweeping away entire villages. 

Officials said the speed and ferocity of the eruption took mountain communities by surprise, with many of the dead found in or around their homes. 

Despite offers of international help from the United States, Mexico and several Latin American neighbours, Guatemalan authorities have not made a request for foreign aid. 

The foreign ministry said disaster management agency CONRED would help determine any such request. 

“We are ready when CONRED as the governing body of emergency management authorise us to make an appeal,” the ministry said in a statement. 

President Jimmy Morales has been criticised on social media for passively waiting to react to offers of international aid. 

The head of the international Red Cross Francesco Rocca is due to visit the country on Thursday, the Geneva-based agency said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies