Guatemala's "Volcan de Fuego," which translates to "Volcano of Fire" experienced a series of powerful eruptions on Thursday, causing authorities to evacuate over 30,000 people from the areas surrounding the volcano.
Officials report that the volcano, which is located approximately 10 miles from the colonial city of Antigua, sent thick clouds of ash at least two miles toward the sky. Lava flowed at least 2,000 feet down the sides of the erupting volcano.
"A paroxysm of an eruption is taking place, a great volcanic eruption with strong explosions and columns of ash," Gustavo Chicna, a vulcanologist with the National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology & Hydrology told the Associated Press in an interview.
According to Sergio Cabanas, Guatemala's head of emergency evacuations, 33,000 residents in 17 communities in the affected area are attempting to evacuate to avoid dangers that could occur due to the flowing lava and ash and cause health issues.
Huge clouds of ash and smoke are blowing toward the south and it's being reported that extremely hot gases are being emitted from the volcano due to the explosions. Cinders are spewing from the top of the volcano and ash is settling down a half-inch thick in some locations.
Much of Guatemala is under an orange alert, which indicates the need for preparation to respond to an emergency. Orange is the 2nd highest alert level. However, to the south and southeast of the erupting volcano the emergency alert is at the highest level, red. Due to the smoke and ash in the air, this area "is almost in total darkness," Chicna said. He went on to note that ash is landing as far as 50 miles to the south.
The Guatemalan Red Cross has set up at least ten emergency shelters around the affected area and is in the process of sending out water and hygiene kits. Health issues amongst the people in the surrounding areas have already begun to crop up.
"There are lots of respiratory problems and eye problems," Teresa Marroquin, disaster coordinator for the Guatemalan Red Cross said.
Guatemalan officials estimate that the eruption could continue for up to twelve hours. Officials in Mexico, which borders Guatemala, say they are monitoring the situation in case winds blow the heavy ash and smoke toward Mexico.