Volcan de Fuego, which means “volcano of fire” in English, exploded on Sunday just 27 miles from Guatemala City. Another explosion on Monday sent fire, debris and ash down onto thousands of hectares of coffee farms, hampered rescue efforts.
Jorge Luis Altuve, part of Guatemala's mountain rescue brigade, explained he was on the mountain searching for missing people with his colleagues when all of a sudden they realized the volcano's activity had increased.
Altuve recalled something falling on his helmet and it wasn’t rain but stones.
"We'd already started our descent... when the ash cloud reached us and day turned into night. From daylight it went to being as dark as at 10pm," he said.
The bodies of victims struck by a river of lava and clouds of smoke were recovered in the villages of Los Lotes, El Rodeo and Fanuel Garcia. Out of them, just 17 have been officially identified so far, because the intense volcanic debris left most of the bodies unrecognizable.
Disturbing images of victims bodies caked in ash captured the intensity of the natural disaster.
"The landscape on the volcano is totally changed, everything is totally destroyed," government volcanologist Gustavo Chigna said on local radio.
So far emergency workers were able to pull out 10 people, who were still breathing, from the volcanic mud flows.
Meanwhile, thousands of people have been placed in temporary shelters and over 3,200 people have been evacuated from areas near the volcano. According to CONRED, a government disaster agency, almost 1.7 million people have been affected by the eruption.
Local resident Ricardo Reyes, who had no other choice but to abandon his home, said, "The only thing we could do was run with my family and we left our possessions in the house. Now that all the danger has passed, I came to see how our house was - everything is a disaster."
The deadly eruption destroyed thousands of homes and blanketed nearby villages in its second eruption this year. An uncertain number of people are still missing.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales travelled to the disaster-stricken area and spoke with distraught victims who lost their loved ones in the eruptions.
"All our solidarity and support to President Jimmy Morales and the Guatemalan people for the loss of human life after the eruption of the volcano of Fire," said the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The President of El Salvador also offered his condolences on Twitter and said his country stood ready to assist its neighbor.
On Monday, a strong 5.2-magnitude earthquake hit the Guatemala coast but it was not felt in the capital.
Thumbnail/Banner Image: Reuters, Luis Echeverria