News24

Guatemala volcano blows

2010-05-28 15:29

Guatemala City - Guatemala's Pacaya volcano erupted on Thursday covering the capital with a cloud of black ash that closed the airport and forced evacuations of nearby villages.

Civil aviation authorities closed the country's main La Aurora international airport and President Alvaro Colom declared a state of emergency for the area near the volcano, which lies 40km from Guatemala City.

The debris from the eruption rained ash and small rocks on the capital coating the streets in a layer of black sand.

"The sand is falling on the runway and we need to clear it before any planes can land for safety reasons," said Monica Monje of the country's aviation authority.

Monje said authorities would decide whether it was safe to reopen the airport by midday on Friday. Volcanologists measured plumes of ash reaching 1 500 metres above the volcano's peak.

Pacaya, which is near Antigua where some of Guatemala's highest quality coffee is grown, has been continuously active since the 1960s but has not showered the surrounding area in small rocks and ash since 1998.

The country's disaster committee began evacuating residents from villages close to the volcano although it was not clear how many people had left their homes.