Following the deadly eruption of the Fuego volcano, a ShelterBox team is on its way to Guatemala to understand how we can help the families who have lost everything.
Over 100 people have been killed and the death toll is anticipated to rise. 200 are still missing and thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes.
The hundreds of families who have been evacuated may not be able to return for a long time.
Rock and ash have rained down on the region, wreaking havoc and leaving behind a trail of panic and devastation.
But what is it like to live under the shadow of a volcano, and what are some of the warning signs of a volcano about to erupt?
WHERE IS FUEGO?
Fuego’s summit is 27 miles south-west of Guatemala City and the volcano is just 10 miles west of Antigua, Guatemala’s former capital.
In total, Guatemala has 37 active volcanoes. Fuego itself has already erupted once in 2018, with volcanic ash from the eruption spreading over a 12-mile radius.
It’s a type known by experts as a stratovolcano. Its steep-sides (or flanks) are what give it the shape that many of us have in mind when thinking about volcanoes.
Stratovolcanos are known for their periodic and explosive eruptions.
The most well-known stratovolcano is probably Vesuvius, which erupted in 79 AD, burying the city of Pompeii under tons of volcanic ash.
ERUPTION WITHOUT WARNING
Dr Paul Cole, Associate Professor of Volcanology at the University of Plymouth, explains how the Fuego eruption essentially caught everyone by surprise:
‘This was an unexpected event. It was not forecast. This was the largest event at this volcano since 1974, when similar pyroclastic flows were generated. Nevertheless these pyroclastic flows seem to have gone further than previously. It is unclear why.’
In some instances, there are ‘warning signs’ that a volcano is about to erupt.
Changes to the amount of volcanic gasses being emitted or changes to the actual shape of the volcano can indicate movement in the magma.
But, unfortunately, there are no volcanic eruption forecasting systems which are 100% fail-proof.
Mount Fuego volcano unleashed pyroclastic flow. But, what exactly is pyroclastic flow? Dr. Mildon further explains:
‘Pyroclastic flows are formed of hot air, ash, volcanic gases and rocks. They are incredibly hot – up to several hundreds of degrees C – and travel very fast, up to several hundred kilometres per hour, so they are incredibly hazardous to local populations.’
SETTLING IN VOLCANIC REGIONS
Dr Zoe Mildon, a leading expert in the field of Earth Sciences and a lecturer at the Univerity of Plymouth, explains the health dangers caused by deadly volcanic eruptions:
‘There is the potential for lahars to develop, which are formed by volcanic ash mixing with water, which can engulf villages and cut off communities.
‘Volcanic gases […], if present in high enough concentrations can be poisonous. Inhaling volcanic ash can cause extensive damage to lungs, as volcanic ash particles are very tiny and very sharp’
LIFE NEAR ACTIVE VOLCANOES
More than half a billion people around the world live in the direct vicinity of volcanoes.
Despite the known dangers, people still choose to live in such a high-risk location. But the question is, why?
Thanks to a phenomenon known as ‘upside risk’, the opportunities of living in such a place may offset the known risks.
For farmers, one of the benefits of living near volcanoes is the fertile agricultural ground, enhanced by the volcanic ash. This also applies to areas that were covered by volcanic mudflows.
But there are also interesting social reasons for choosing to live in such a high-risk area, with volcanoes shaping the cultural identity of the communities surrounding them.
How do we monitor volcanic activity?
Scientists around the world use a mixture of techniques to hear and see volcanic activity.
This includes monitoring gas emissions, remote sensings such as satellite and thermal imaging, deformation (the changing shape of a volcano) and ground vibrations.
By observing each of these things scientists can build up data and look out for out-of-the-ordinary signals.
Advances in technology have allowed us to better detect warning signals.
This advancement gives local communities more time to make the difficult decision as to whether they need to leave behind their home, their belongings, and their community
Rebuilding After Disaster
Homes might be different around the world – taking anything from a few days to many years to complete – but they all have similarities.
They are made from hard work, hard-earned savings and dedication.
When natural disasters and conflicts rob people of their homes, we can’t wave a magic wand to replace what was lost, but we can help.
ShelterBox provides people with the tools to start the process of their own recovery.
When people are plunged into crisis, normality is suspended. But good, quality shelter can cut through the chaos.
It doesn’t just give people space to heal from physical and emotional trauma, but it gives them roots. Roots that go far deeper than a simple tent peg.