Volcanoes are a secret passageway, allowing us to peek into the world of molten rock that exists beneath our feet. Humans and lava don’t get along so well, so we prefer the molten rock to stay right where it is. Unfortunately, sometimes Mother Nature has a difficult time keeping Earth’s tectonic dance party under wraps. On Thursday, this geological ruckus caused Guatemala’s Volcan del Fuego (translates to “volcano of fire”) to erupt outside one of the country’s most famous tourist attractions, triggering the evacuation some 17 villages in the area.

According to eyewitnesses, the volcano hurled thick clouds of ash nearly two miles high, sending rivers of lava nearly 2,000 feet down its flanks and prompting evacuation orders for more than 33,000 people from surrounding communities. The site is only about 6 miles away from Antigua, home to 45,000 people. Although officials expected eruptions to continue for around 12 hours, they determined early that the city was not in any immediate danger.

“A paroxysm of an eruption is taking place, a great volcanic eruption, with strong explosions and columns of ash,” said Gustavo Chicna, a volcanologist with the National Institute of Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology. He said cinders spewing from the volcano were settling a half-inch thick in some places. In addition to the tremors and a thick layer of ash that quickly covered everything in site, officials said extremely hot gases were also rolling down the sides of the volcano, which could be a problem for air travel.

Traffic clogged the roadways as evacuees fled the area, looking for safety and a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, many of those living around the volcano are indigenous Kakchikeles people, who live in small, remote villages. Authorities said they expected to encounter difficulties in evacuating all the affected people from the area.

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