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Thousands flee Fuego volcano in Guatemala

A major volcanic eruption in Guatemala has triggered evacuations. The head of emergency response said that more than 30,000 people from 17 outlying villages were fleeing the Fuego volcano.

A string of settlements at the base of the Fuego volcano were evacuated on Thursday amid the active volcano's largest eruption in a decade.

Sergio Cabanas, director of emergency response in Guatemala's CONRED emergency agency, said that around 8,000 people had fled their homes, with another 23,000 prepared to do so if necessary. The eruption created columns of smoke visible even from the capital Guatemala City, some 75 kilometers (46 miles) away.

"This type of eruption is stronger than normal and hasn't been seen in recent years. That's why we have declared an orange alert," Gustavo Chigna of the Vulcanology Institute told local media.

The Fuego volcano (Volcano of Fire) is one of four active volcanoes on Guatemala; it is 3,763 meters (12,345 feet) high and around 16 kilometers away from the tourist town of Antigua Guatemala.

Alejandro Maldonado of Guatemala's disaster prevention agency said that those who had left their homes were taken to temporary accommodation.

Ash from the volcano was mainly spreading to the west and northwest on Thursday, owing to the direction of the wind - officials said it had spread as far as 12 kilometers from the Fuego volcano.

msh/lw (AFP, AP, dapd, Reuters)