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Israel to send aid teams to Guatemala following deadly volcanic eruption

Netanyahu speaks with leader Morales as death toll hits 75 with nearly 200 missing, offers medical, logistical assistance; doctors to reportedly fly out Thursday

View of the damage casued by the eruption of the Fuego Volcano in village of San Miguel Los Lotes, in Escuintla Department, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, taken on June 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ
View of the damage casued by the eruption of the Fuego Volcano in village of San Miguel Los Lotes, in Escuintla Department, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, taken on June 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night spoke with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, and offered him condolences for the deaths caused by the country’s catastrophic volcanic eruption.

Netanyahu also offered Israeli medical and logistical aid to the Central American nation. Netanyahu and Morales last met when the latter visited Jerusalem in May to open his country’s embassy there, two days after the US opened its mission in the city.

According to Hadashot TV news, a team of Israeli doctors will fly out to the disaster zone on Thursday. Israeli emergency aid organization IsrAid also announced that they are sending a team.

Meanwhile the Israeli embassy and a team from Israel’s Zaka emergency service have launched efforts in Guatemala to provide aid and basic necessities to those affected, including blankets, medicine, first aid kits and water purification tablets.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales attend a reception at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on May 16, 2018. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Nearly 200 people are missing and at least 75 have been killed since Guatemala’s Fuego volcano began erupting over the weekend, officials said Tuesday.

Seven communities in already devastated areas 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 saw 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 ordered to stand down.

And a total of 192 people remain missing since the weekend eruptions, disaster relief agency chief Sergio Cabanas told reporters.

People evacuate the disaster zone as a column of smoke and ash rises from the area where lava flowed down the Fuego Volcano, in Escuintla Department, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, on June 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ)

The search for bodies in mountain villages destroyed by the eruption was progressing slowly, officials said, 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,” Cabanas 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 if people caught in the flow they may never be found.

A volunteer firefighter cries after leaving El Rodeo village in Escuintla department, 35 km south of Guatemala City on June 3, 2018, following the eruption of the Fuego Volcano. (AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO ESTRADA)

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.

Volcan de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, blows outs a thick cloud of ash, as seen from Alotenango, Guatemala, June 3, 2018. (Santiago Billy/AP)

The speed of the eruption took locals by surprise, and could be explained by it producing pyroclastic flows, sudden emissions of gas and rock fragments, rather than lava, said volcanologist David Rothery of Britain’s Open University.

Morales, who has declared three days of national mourning, has visited the disaster zone.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was deeply saddened by the “tragic loss of life and the significant damage caused by the eruption,” and said the UN was ready to assist national rescue and relief efforts.

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