The Fuego volcano, about 40km (25 miles) south-west of the capital Guatemala City, has been spewing rocks, black smoke and ash into the sky. A flow of lava hit the village of El Rodeo, killing people inside houses. The main airport in Guatemala City has been closed.
President Jimmy Morales has declared three days of national mourning. In a statement issued late on Sunday, he spoke of the nation’s “deep pain” caused by the “irreparable losses” in human lives.
Sergio Cabañas, head of the country’s National Disaster Management Agency (Conred), told a local radio station that a lava stream had changed course towards El Rodeo. “Unfortunately El Rodeo was buried and we haven’t been able to reach the La Libertad village because of the lava and maybe there are people that died there too.”
This eruption is the biggest since 1974, according to local experts. Mr Cabañas later said the dead included a member of his agency’s staff. Several children are among those confirmed dead. Videos published by local media show bodies lying on top of a lava flow and rescuers attending to people covered in ash.
Officials have advised people to wear masks as protection against falling ash in four of Guatemala’s regions. The military is providing assistance, from rescue operations to setting up temporary shelters and clearing volcanic ash from the runway at Guatemala City’s La Aurora airport.