Volcano Eruption Stuns Guatemala


The Pacaya volcano in Guatemala has erupted. According to local authorities a column of ash has shot into the air several miles high while the volcano is also spitting glowing hot rocks, after what locals described as a powerful explosion on Saturday afternoon. More explosions were experienced on Sunday. The Pacaya volcano eruption, which rises to an elevation of more than 8,000 feet, has stunned Guatemala.

The Guatemalan authorities are considering the evacuation of some 3,000 people in the area. Persons in the villages of El Rodeo and Patrochino have been put on evacuation alert. All airplane flights have been diverted from the area. Access to the park surrounding the volcano, as well as all tourism, has been suspended.

The volcano is located some 20 miles southeast from the country’s capital in Guatemala City. Scientists estimate that the volcano first erupted some 23,000 gears ago but now has erupted some 23 times since the Spanish Conquistadores invaded Guatemala in the 16th Century. It began erupting with vigor in 1965 and has been erupting on a regular basis since. The volcano erupted in May of 2012 causing ash to rain down on Guatemala City, Antigua and Excuintla. In 1998 there was another major eruption that spewed lava, debris and ash columns. In 2006 more volcanic activity created lava slopes.

Ironically, all the volcanic activity has become a magnet for tourism with many locals and foreigners traveling to it. The volcano is easily accessible from Guatemala City and from Antigua. It was after the 2006 activity that tourism really began to increase.

Pacaya is located within a national park, which was specifically created to oversee tourism in the area. In fact, the park generates income from tour groups who are charged a fee to come into the park.

The volcano is located in the “ring of fire” volcanic chain surrounding the Pacific Ocean. The ring starts to the west of Australia and curves up around China and Russia and over to Alaska and then down the United States, Mexican and South American coasts. The ring is famous for its regular earthquake and volcanic activity. It is estimated by scientists that more than half of the world’s active volcanoes are in the ring.

Since volcanoes are so dangerous it begs the question as to why anyone would want to live near one.

The fact is that many people live near them because of the geothermal energy they generate which can power turbines and power stations, which in turn produce electricity. New Zealand and Iceland have used this method for many years.

Lava can also produce minerals, which can be mined once the lava cools. These include gold, silver, diamonds, copper and zinc. Hence, mining towns grow up around volcanoes.

Further, the areas around volcanoes contain some of the richest soil in the world, ideal for farming.

In addition, the presence of hot springs and geysers, as well as the spectacular vista of a volcano, is a lure for tourists. As a result, hotels, spas, restaurants and gift shops sprout up which create jobs for locals. Many locals, in fact, become tour guides and docents.

Pacaya does not rank among the world’s largest volcanoes. Mount Mazama at Crater Lake Oregon has the distinction of being the world’s largest volcano. That is followed by Mount Etna, Sicily; Mount Vesuvius, Italy; Mount Tambora, Indonesia; Mount Krakatau, Indonesia; Mount Pelee, Martinique; Paricutin, Mexico; Mount St. Helens, Washington; Nevada del Ruiz, Columbia; and Mount Panatubo, Philippines. An eruption at Mount Pinatubo in 1991 killed 800 and left 100,000 homeless.

Locals are used to their famous mountain erupting but when it does, it still stuns Guatemala.

By Jim McCullaugh

ABC News
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