Belfast Telegraph

Derry man tells of Guatemala volcano horror - 'people have lost everything'

By Brett Campbell

A Co Londonderry man helping provide relief to people who lost everything during a massive volcanic eruption in South America has described the harrowing situation which has left at least 75 people dead.

Dean Kerlin (32), who owns the Tropicana Hostel in Antigua, Guatemala, said it has been a "long couple of days" since the country's Volcan De Fuego unleashed a devastating flow of ash, rock and volcanic gases.

"The worst situations I have seen are the people who have lost their homes, lost everything," he said.

"They have come from little towns, they are pretty poor, they didn't have an awful lot to begin with.

"A lot of them have lost family members.

"I was chatting to a guy who was driving one of the vans with supplies, he had lost four or five family members - uncles, aunties, cousins - but he was still helping out.

"He was fighting back tears while he was driving to the market to buy things."

Mr Kerlin said he feels safe in town where relief operations are based, but expressed fears that his sense of wellbeing could be based on his "naivety".

The Derry man is among a team of volunteers whose immediate efforts are focused on delivering essential supplies to those caught up in the disaster.

"I've got a big van at the hostel we use for tours, we've been using it to take supplies from Antigua," he said.

"Everyone's been pulling together, the travelling community, all the backpackers and holidaymakers. They have been donating their time and money to the cause, buying medical supplies and food and water for everybody who lost their homes."

Along with volunteers from around the world he travelled to some of the smaller towns and villages to drop off much-needed supplies on Monday and Tuesday.

"I don't think the villages will be the same again," he said.

A British backpacker and freelance journalist who arrived in Alotenango - just over five miles from the volcano - when the thunderous activity began again on Tuesday said a number of people from the UK and Ireland have been helping in the aftermath of the disaster.

Matt Goldsmith (22), from Wilmslow in Cheshire, has been driving aid to isolated areas and described a mixture of "harrowing" and "heart-warming" scenes.

"We went to a village today where they did not have any running water and relied on rain water - now they are completely without water because of the ash," he said.

"They don't have food because all the crops are destroyed. The sulphur in the volcanic ash means they won't be able to grow anything."

He added: "I saw a woman who had miscarried as she got out of one of the towns and in Alotenango they had coffins lined up in the centre outside."

As rescue teams continued the grim search for the missing, strong explosions blew ash and deadly sulphur more than 16,000 feet above sea level - and heavy rain has also sparked fears of mudslides.

A new hole blown into the side of the volcano has significantly altered how it erupts raising the risk of deadly pyroclastic flows in previously unaffected areas.

Belfast Telegraph

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