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Guatemala City (AFP) Sept 14, 2012
Eruptions at Guatemala's Volcano of Fire weakened Friday, one day after powerful blasts sent columns of smoke and ash high into the sky and forced authorities to order a mass evacuation.
The number and intensity of eruptions had dropped to the point that emergency officials said they could allow some of the people ordered to flee on Thursday to return home.
Authorities said they evacuated about one-third of the 33,000 area residents that they were prepared to shelter if eruptions intensified.
"The Volcano of Fire's eruptions have diminished, so depending on its behavior over the next hours people could return to their homes," said David de Leon, spokesman for CONRED, the government disaster mitigation office.
Thursday's eruption, the most powerful in the past decade, buried several villages in ash, said Gustavo Chigna of the National Institute for Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology.
While ash columns from the Thursday eruptions reached 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) above the volcano's crater, on Friday they were only 700 meters (2,300 feet) high, the Institute said.
The smoke columns could be seen from the capital, some 75 kilometers (50 miles) away.
Families were evacuated in sugar mill buses and trucks normally used to transport goods and cattle, Mariano Lam, a spokesman for volunteer firefighters, told AFP Thursday.
But he said that many people decided to stay at their homes "at their own risk."
The 3,763-meter (12,345-foot) high Volcano of Fire is one of three active volcanoes in Guatemala.
Guatemala's Volcano of Fire erupts, thousands evacuate
The massive columns of smoke from the volcano could be seen from the capital, some 75 kilometers (50 miles) away, and motorists said they saw a huge cloud of ash coming down slopes.
"This type of eruption is stronger than normal and hasn't been seen in recent years. That's why we have declared an orange alert" in the area around the volcano, in western Guatemala, Gustavo Chigna of the National Institute for Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology told local media.
He said the eruption had buried several villages in ash near the 3,763-meter (12,345-foot) tall volcano. Rumbling could be heard for several kilometers around.
Javier Garcia from the village of El Porvenir told local radio that he had initially planned to stay put.
But after seeing "the great eruption and all the ash that was falling, we decided to seek refuge," he said. "Everything went black and we could not breathe."
Families were being evacuated in sugar mill buses and trucks normally used to transport goods and cattle, Mariano Lam, a spokesman for volunteer firefighters, told AFP.
But he complained that many people were reluctant to leave their homes and decided to "stay at their own risk."
The national disaster reduction agency CONRED has set up a command post in the nearby municipality of San Juan Alotenango in Sacatepequez department, to coordinate care for the affected population.
Six communities in Yepocapa and another in San Juan Alotenango are the most affected, according to CONRED.
Moderate to strong explosions have been shaking the volcano, sending debris up to 3,000 meters above the crater and forming thick columns of ash spreading to the west and northwest, according to the volcanology institute.
Further complicating the picture, heavy rains were reported in areas near the volcano, prompting CONRED to take "preventive measures" on different roads and at riverbeds.
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