GUATEMALA CITY - Explosive eruptions shook two huge volcanoes in Central and South America on Friday, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes and disrupting air traffic as ash drifted over wide regions.
Guatemala's Pacaya volcano started erupting lava and rocks Thursday afternoon, blanketing the country's capital with ash and forcing the closure of La Aurora International Airport at least until Saturday. President Alvaro Colom declared a "state of calamity."
"We thought we wouldn't survive. Our houses crumbled and we've lost everything," said Brenda Castaneda, who said she and her family hid under beds and tables as marble-sized rocks thundered down on her home in the village of Calderas.
Television reporter Anibal Archila was killed by a shower of burning rocks when he got too close to the volcano, about 15 miles south of Guatemala City, said David de Leon, a spokesman for the national disaster committee.
The last images of Archila broadcast by Channel 7 television show him standing in front of a lava river and burning trees, talking about the intense heat.
De Leon said three children ages 7 to 12 were missing.
At least 1,910 people from villages closest to the volcano were evacuated to shelters.
About 800 homes were damaged in the initial eruption late Thursday. A second eruption at midday Friday released ash in smaller amounts from the 8,373-foot mountain, according to the Guatemala's Geophysical Research and Services Unit. The unit reported an ash plume 3,000 feet high that trailed more than 12 miles to the northwest.
In Guatemala City, bulldozers scraped the blackened streets while residents used shovels to clean their cars and roofs, carrying out large garbage bags filled with ash into the streets.
The blanket of ash was three inches thick in some southern parts of the city, and officials imposed limits on trucks and motorcycles to help speed up traffic.
Meanwhile, strong explosions rocked Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano, prompting evacuations of hundreds of people from nearby villages.
Officials said that within a few hours, winds had blown the ash over the city of Guayaquil, 110 miles to the southwest. Aviation officials halted flights out of Guayaquil and from Quito to Lima, Peru.