A powerful explosion sparked a mass evacuation Tuesday of areas already devastated near Guatemala's Fuego volcano, which officials said has killed at least 73 people since it first erupted over the weekend.
Seven communities were evacuated as the volcano's activity increased, with rescue operations halted.
In the city of Escuintla, near the summit, panicked locals rushed to their cars to escape, causing chaotic traffic.
An AFP photographer witnessed 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 stood down.
|This aerial view shows the disaster zone near the Volcan de Fuego, or "Volcano of Fire," in Escuintla, Guatemala. The fiery volcanic eruption in south-central Guatemala killed scores as rescuers struggled to reach people where homes and roads were charred and blanketed with ash. (AP-Yonhap)|
The search for bodies in mountain villages destroyed by the eruption was progressing slowly, officials had said earlier, given the nature of the terrain and the way the volcano released large amounts of boiling mud, rock and ash down the mountain.
"We will continue until we find the last victim, though we do not know how many there are. We will probe the area as many times as necessary," Sergio Cabanas, head of the disaster management agency, told AFP.
However, the prospects of finding any more survivors was poor, he said.
"If you are trapped in a pyroclastic flow, it's hard to come out of it alive," he said, adding that people who may have been caught in the flow may never be found.
The latest of the 73 victims was a 42-year-old woman who died in hospital having lost both legs and an arm in the eruption.
The previous toll was given as 72. Some 46 people were injured, around half of whom are in serious condition, it said.
The 3,763-meter (12,346-foot) volcano erupted early Sunday, spewing out towering plumes of ash and a hail of fiery rock fragments with scalding mud.
Authorities said more than 1.7 million people had been affected by the disaster, including more than 3,000 ordered evacuated, many living in shelters in Escuintla, Sacatepequez and Chimaltenango since Sunday's eruption. (AFP)