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Guatemala volcano: rescuers battle boiling ash to recover Fuego’s dead

In San Miguel Los Lotes close to Guatemala’s most active volcano, firefighters are working hard, but hope is slim

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Guatemala volcano: rescuers battle boiling ash to recover Fuego’s dead” was written by Nina Lakhani in San Miguel Los Lotes, for The Guardian on Tuesday 5th June 2018 04.31 UTC

A rescue crew emerges from an immense cloud of fine grey dust carrying two stretchers that hold bodies recovered from houses engulfed by blistering lava from the nearby erupting Fuego volcano.

The recovered bodies are tightly wrapped in dusty white sheets. One barely fills half the stretcher – a young victim of the most deadly volcanic eruption to hit Guatemala in decades.

The official death toll from the Fuego disaster is 70 but the final number is likely to be far higher, with scores of people missing from dozens of communities cut off by the devastation.

‘It is terrible up there’

In the rural community of San Miguel Los Lotes, a group of municipal firefighters pulled out out 15 bodies on Monday morning, including four children and their pregnant mother who didn’t have time to escape the powerful pyroclastic flows – fast-moving mixtures of gas and volcanic matter discharged by the exploding volcano.

Another rescue team recovered 14 people, including several children, and reported encountering eight- to 10-metre high mounds of volcanic ash. The most common cause of death was asphyxia, followed by burns.

“The houses became ovens, and the village a crematorium. There are no survivors,” says volunteer firefighter Francisco Flores.

The ash-covered landscape in the aftermath of the eruption of Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala.
The ash-covered landscape in the aftermath of the eruption of Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala.
Photograph: Juan Diego Alvarez

“There is so much ash it’s like a massive beach but with trees and rocks thrown in, it’s terrible up there,” adds Flores while taking a break to eat a sandwich and close his eyes for a few minutes by the side of the road.

Even the maize crops and vegetation bordering the snaking highway are covered in a dense layer of the grey ash that has turned the lush landscape into something that resembles a post-apocalyptic scene from a science fiction film.

Beside Flores rests Angel Solis, another volunteer, who is comforting a terrified puppy the crew found hiding under a bed in a house where the rest of the family were killed. On Monday, rescue workers tenderly carried out to safety several injured dogs, a pig, ducks and chickens, but no humans.

This entire hillside community has been devastated by Sunday’s eruption which took place without warning just before midday. The toxic mix of lava, ash and gas engulfed entire houses inside which dozens and dozens of people are feared to have been trapped as they prepared to eat lunch.

Those who managed to escape have sought refuge in makeshift shelters set-up in churches and schools in the nearby town of Escuintla.

People carry the coffins of seven people who died during the eruption of the Volcan de Fuego.
People carry the coffins of seven people who died during the eruption of the Volcan de Fuego.
Photograph: Luis Soto/AP

‘Shall I go to the morgue?’

Isabel Pineda, 25, spent all morning going from shelter to shelter looking for her younger sister who lived in a small house on the main road into San Miguel. But she could not find Patricia Pineda, 21, a business administration student, and her phone is switched off. No one has heard from her since the volcano erupted.

From the cordon, Pineda points out where the house was, but in its place is nothing but clouds of grey dust. Beyond the dust, the road is ruined and inaccessible. “No one is coming out of there alive, they should check in the morgue,” says one rescue worker in a hushed tone.

Fuego – which means fire in Spanish – is located less than 50km west of the capital Guatemala City and is one of the most active volcanos in Central America. Sunday’s eruption was the second so far this year.

The build-up of energy inside the volcano generated an explosion that resulted in a second, lower crater forming alongside the spewing Fuego basin. The torrent of molten lava stretched at least five miles long crushing bridges, roads and buildings in its path. The lava reached record temperatures of about 700C.

Employing a mix of heavy machinery, shovels and picks, the rescue workers have cleared narrow paths in order to try and safely access houses, but 24 hours after the initial eruption a hundred or so homes in this village alone remain blanketed in volcanic matter and too dangerous to enter.

“Every time we lift off a metal roof a huge gush of steam rises out of the building,” rescue worker Juan Diego Alvarez tells the Guardian. “The ash is just too hot for us to work.” Nearby lie several pairs of abandoned burnt boots, melted by the boiling ash.

The rescue efforts have been hampered by further eruptions, poor visibility, rain and the unbearable heat trapped within the volcanic ash. The fate of dozens of smaller settlements constructed on higher plots around the volcano remains unknown as the conditions are too dangerous for rescuers to attempt to get close.

Image of an ash-covered town in the aftermath of the eruption of the Fuego volcano
Image of an ash-covered town in the aftermath of the eruption of the Fuego volcano
Photograph: Juan Diego Alvarez

Authorities fear that heavy rains expected later this week could turn tonnes of ash into rivers of mud strong enough to hurl bodies and debris down the foothills.

Meanwhile the morgues are filling up.

Juan Ortiz, 60, cycles towards the cordon where hundreds of soldiers, police officers, firefighters and volunteers are waiting for conditions to improve so they can resume the search for victims. His 28-year-old son is missing. Earlier, Ortiz snuck through security to reach his son’s house. “It’s completely covered in grey sand, the whole house, do you think the authorities will find him or shall I go to the morgue?”

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Trump Administration Plan To Reopen America Being Released Thursday.

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ABC News reports:

President Donald Trump’s plan to re-open the American economy after a near-total shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic consists of three graduated phases, according to a copy of the proposed actions obtained by ABC News.

Trump unveiled the plan in a video conference call with the nation’s governors on Thursday afternoon. The state leaders were instructed that they could move through the guidelines at their own pace and that the guidelines are not formal orders from the federal government, according to a person familiar with the call.

“Phase one” calls on employers to telework where possible, return to work in phases, minimize non-essential travel and make accommodations for the vulnerable populations within the workforce. It calls on all vulnerable individuals to “shelter in place,” and when in public, all individuals should continue social distancing.

However, a critical piece to this is the “gating criteria” that all states and regions should achieve before they can move on to phase one. This includes a “downward trajectory” of reported “influenza-like illnesses,” “covid-like syndromic cases” and “documented cases” or “positive tests as a percent of total tests” within a 14-day period, as well as the ability for hospitals to “treat all patients without crisis care” and have a “robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.”

In “phase two,” non-essential travel for employers can resume. Schools and organized youth activity can reopen. Bars, gyms and large venues can reopen with proper social distancing measures in places. Churches can open with social distancing. Elective surgeries can resume.

The third phase says bars, gyms and large venues can reopen with limited social distancing and proper sanitation.

The president described the guidelines “as a bit of a negotiation,” a source said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Preview the Trump Adminstration US reopening plan here or below.

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U.K. government extends national lockdown for at least three more weeks to slow country’s coronavirus outbreak.

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LONDON (AP) — U.K. government extends national lockdown for at least three more weeks to slow country’s coronavirus outbreak.

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Bernie Sanders Suspends Presidential Campaign

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Bernie Sanders, who saw his once strong lead in the Democratic primary evaporate as the party’s establishment lined swiftly up behind rival Joe Biden, ended his presidential bid on Wednesday, an acknowledgment that the former vice president is too far ahead for him to have any reasonable hope of catching up.

The Vermont senator’s announcement makes Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee to challenge President Donald Trump in November. 

Sanders plans to talk to his supporters later Wednesday.

Sanders initially exceeded sky-high expectations about his ability to recreate the magic of his 2016 presidential bid, and even overcame a heart attack last Octoberon the campaign trail. But he found himself unable to convert unwavering support from progressives into a viable path to the nomination amid “electability” fears fueled by questions about whether his democratic socialist ideology would be palatable to general election voters.

The 78-year-old senator began his latest White House bid facing questions about whether he could win back the supporters who chose him four years ago as an insurgent alternative to the party establishment’s choice, Hillary Clinton. Despite winning 22 states in 2016, there were no guarantees he’d be a major presidential contender this cycle, especially as the race’s oldest candidate.

Sanders, though, used strong polling and solid fundraising — collected almost entirely from small donations made online — to more than quiet early doubters. Like the first time, he attracted widespread support from young voters and was able to make new inroads within the Hispanic community, even as his appeal with African Americans remained small. 

Sanders amassed the most votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, which opened primary voting, and cruised to an easy victory in Nevada — seemingly leaving him well positioned to sprint to the Democratic nomination while a deeply crowded and divided field of alternatives sunk around him. 

But a crucial endorsement of Biden by influential South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, and a subsequent, larger-than-expected victory in South Carolina, propelled the former vice president into Super Tuesday, when he won 10 of 14 states.

In a matter of days, his top former Democratic rivals lined up and announced their endorsement of Biden. The former vice president’s campaign had appeared on the brink of collapse after New Hampshire but found new life as the rest of the party’s more moderate establishment coalesced around him as an alternative to Sanders.

Things only got worse the following week when Sanders lost Michigan, where he had campaigned hard and upset Clinton in 2016. He was also beaten in Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho the same night and the results were so decisive that Sanders headed to Vermont without speaking to the media.

Sanders had scheduled a rally in Ohio but canceled it amid fears about the spread of coronavirus — and the outbreak kept him home as his campaign appeared unsure of its next move. The senator addressed reporters the following day, but also sounded like a candidate who already knew he’d been beaten. 

“While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability,” Sanders said then.

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