Volcanic eruption: 4000 forced to flee as red-hot rock, ash gush into the sky, cascades down

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About 4 000 residents fled Guatemala's Volcano of Fire on Monday as red-hot rock and ash spewed into the sky and cascaded down the slopes toward an area devastated by a deadly eruption earlier this year.

Guatemala's volcanology unit said that explosions from the 3 763m high mountain shook homes with "constant sounds similar to a train locomotive".

Incandescent material burst as high as 1 000m above the crater, and flows of hot rock and ash extended nearly 3km down one flank of the volcano. Hot blasts of pyroclastic material pushed down canyons on the slopes, while a column of ash rose nearly 7 000m above sea level and drifted toward Guatemala City to the east.

Hundreds of families heeded the call of disaster coordination authorities to evacuate 10 communities, piling into yellow school buses for trips to shelters. The national disaster commission said 3 925 people had been evacuated by early on Monday.

The Volcano of Fire is one of the most active in Central America and an eruption in June killed 194 people. Another 234 are officially missing, although organisations supporting the communities have insisted there are thousands of missing persons.

It spewed more ash and hot rock in October, prompting warnings for the nearby communities.

The biggest danger from the volcano are lahars, a mixture of ash, rock, mud and debris, that can bury entire towns.

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