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After Guatemalan volcano erupts, Israel first to respond

The Guatemalan Volcan de Fuego, Spanish for “volcano of fire,” exploded in a hail of ash and molten rock shortly before noon Sunday, blanketing nearby villages in heavy ash. It then began sending lava flows down the mountain’s flank and across homes and roads around 4 p.m.

It was one of the most violent explosions of a volcano in the Western Hemisphere in recent years. The deadly volcanic eruption left at least 30 people dead and cities covered in ash. Many of the dead were killed by exploding lava and hot ash that rained down on the villages surrounding the mountain.

Now, one of Guatemala’s strongest allies is the first nation in the world to respond.

The Foreign Ministry of Israel said it was sending emergency aid funds to the country. The money is to go toward buying medicine, food and blankets for those affected.

Plans were also being made to send search and rescue teams and other aid to the country, where lava flows have blocked roads, destroyed bridges and hampered rescue efforts.

“We will later carry out an evaluation with the Guatemalan authorities,” the ministry said in a statement about the extent of the aid and how to best use resources.

The Volcan de Fuego, Authorities said at least 30 people were killed and 50 more injured, with fears the death toll could rise.

Dramatic video showed a fast-moving lahar, or flow of pyroclastic material and slurry, slamming into and partly destroying a bridge on a highway between Sacatepequez and Escuintla. That is the same type of flow that buried the ancient city of Pompeii.

Sacatepezuez television published images of a charred landscape where the lava came into contact with homes. Three bodies lay partially buried in ash-colored debris from the volcano, which lies about 27 miles (44 kilometers) from Guatemala City.

Other videos from local media showed residents walking barefoot and covered in muddy residue.

“Not everyone was able to get out. I think they ended up buried,” Consuelo Hernandez, a resident of the village of El Rodeo, told the newspaper Diario de Centroamerica.

Homes were still burning in El Rodeo late Sunday, and a charred stench hung over the town.

Hundreds of rescue workers, including firefighters, police and soldiers, worked to help any survivors and recover any more bodies amid the still-smoking lava.

Firefighters said they had seen some people who were trapped, but roads were cut by pyroclastic flows and they had been unable to reach them.

In the United States, Christian relief agencies are organizing to send volunteers and supplies. Israel is most often the first nation to arrive on the scene of world disaster with experienced search and rescue teams, advanced technology that can locate bodies in rubble and mobile hospital units. Israel has developed the most extensive first responder efforts in the world as a result of experience with Palestinian and terrorist violence within its own borders over the years. It’s first responders are famous for entering dangerous situations to offer aid before police can even secure the scene of a terrorist bombing or other attack.

That experience will help save lives in Guatemala as local authorities do not have the expertise for such a calamity. Amid darkness and rain, the rescue effort was suspended until early Monday morning, municipal firefighters’ spokesman Cecilio Chacaj said.

Israel’s ties with Guatemala were significantly upgraded last month when the central American country became the second country to move its embassy to Jerusalem, two days after the US inaugurated its own embassy in the city, answering a longstanding Israeli demand for recognition of the city as their capital.

On May 21 Paraguay became the third country to open its embassy in Jerusalem.