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A volcano erupted in Guatemala on Sunday, killing at least seven people and injuring 20 as a cloud of smoke coated nearby villages in heavy ash.

"Not everyone escaped, I think they were buried", Consuelo Hernandez told local news outlet Diario de Centroamerica.

Hundreds of firefighters, police and soldiers are searching for the missing amid the still-smoking lava.

A volcano southwest of Guatemala's capital has erupted for the second time this year, setting off loud explosions and spewing ash almost four miles into the sky.

National Disaster Coordinator Sergio Cabanas had previously confirmed that seven people were dead and an unknown number were unaccounted for. Firefighters said they had seen some people who were trapped, but roads leading to the area were cut by pyroclastic flows and they had been unable to reach it.

Rescue operations were suspended until 5:00 A.M. (1100 GMT) due to risky conditions and inclement weather, said Cecilio Chacaj, a spokesman for the municipal firefighters department.

Guatemala has two other active volcanoes, Santiaguito in the west and Pacaya, just south of the capital.

"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", said CONRED's Cabanas.

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A total of about a million people have been affected by the eruption, the Guatemalan government says.

Mario Cruz, a spokesman for the volunteer firefighter corps, said 3,100 people had evacuated the area so far. Shelters were opened for those forced to flee. "Evacuations and searches are under way", he said, quoted by Reuters.

It added that he said authorities began to send bulletins on the situation starting at 11:30 a.m.

President Jimmy Morales said he had convened his ministers and was considering declaring a state of emergency in the departments of Chimaltenango, Escuintla and Sacatepequez.

Authorities said at least six people were dead or missing following the eruption. Streets and houses were covered in the colonial town of Antigua.

The capital's worldwide airport has also been closed due to the danger the ash poses to planes.

The volcano's peak soars 3,763 meters above sea level.


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