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Astonishing and tragic images show scale of Guatemala volcano destruction

From ruined homes coated in a layer of ash to battered cars strewn across village roads, these are the dramatic images from Guatemala - a country reeling after its 'Volcano of Fire' erupted killing at least 75 people.

While rescue workers tirelessly search for survivors, the funerals of those who weren't so lucky take place around them.

For those who didn't perish in the pyroclastic flows that engulfed the area around the Volcan de Fuego, the pain is almost unbearable.

Lilian Hernandez was inconsolable. She lost 36 family members in all - missing and presumed dead in the town of San Miguel Los Lotes.

People carry the coffins of seven people who died during the eruption of the Volcan de Fuego. Credit: AP
A rescue worker carries his search dog to another site

Frightened people living near the volcano fled with their children and few possessions when fresh flows of super-heated debris were announced on Tuesday.

Those living nearby were taking no chances after authorities gave them little time to evacuate before a deadly eruption over the weekend.

The eruption left roads blocked and cars and homes destroyed. Credit: AP
The village of San Miguel Los Lotes lies destroyed after the eruption. Credit: AP

Traffic came to a standstill on choked roads and those without vehicles walked, even in central Escuintla, which was not under an evacuation order.

Businesses shut as owners fled and reduced a once verdant area to a moonscape of ash.

Rescue workers search in one of the hamlets in the disaster area. Credit: AP

Mirna Priz wept as she sat on a rock at a crossroads, with a suitcase in front of her and her 11-year-old son, Allen, and their terrier mix Cara Sucia by her side.

“You feel powerless,” she said. “I don’t know where I’m going to go. To leave my things, everything I have.”

But after seeing what happened on Sunday, she was afraid to stay.

A column of smoke rose from the mountain on Tuesday afternoon and hot volcanic material began descending its south side, prompting new evacuation orders for half a dozen communities and the closure of a national highway.

Firefighters search a home in the disaster zone near the Volcan de Fuego. Credit: AP

The country’s seismology and vulcanology institute said the smoke billowing from the volcano’s top could produce a “curtain” of ash that could reach 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level, posing a danger to air traffic.

Rescuers, police and journalists hurried to leave the area as a siren wailed and loudspeakers blared: “Evacuate!”

Three-year-old Jennifer Andrea Morales died during the eruption. Credit: AP

Among those fleeing was retiree Pantaleon Garcia, who was able to load his grandchildren into the back of a pickup with a jug of water and some food. They were heading to the homes of relatives in another town.

“You have to be prepared, for the children,” he said.

When the panic set off by the new evacuations became clear, disaster officials called for calm.

In the community of Magnolia, which was under the new evacuation order, residents fled carrying bags of clothing and even small dogs in their arms.

Firefighters work in the disaster zone blanketed in volcanic ash

Many walked along the side of the highway because traffic had stalled on the only road out.

By Tuesday, the images of Sunday’s destruction were familiar to everyone. What was once a collection of green canyons, hillsides and farms was reduced to grey devastation by fast-moving avalanches of super-heated muck that roared into the tightly knit villages on the mountain’s flanks.

Two days after the eruption, the terrain was still too hot in many places for rescue crews to search for bodies or — increasingly unlikely with each passing day — survivors.

A spokesman for Guatemala’s firefighters said that once it reaches 72 hours after the eruption, there will be little chance of finding anyone alive.

A man waits for a rescue team in the ash covered village of San Miguel Los Lotes. Credit: AP
A man inspects the damage in Escuintla, Guatemala. Credit: AP
The Volcan de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, billows outs a thick cloud of ash on Sunday. Credit: AP