A team of Israeli aid workers from relief organization IsraAID will arrive in Guatemala today to distribute relief and assess needs in the wake of two devastating volcanic eruptions that have killed 62, injured hundreds, and left many missing.
Already on location at the scene are 45 Guatemalan first responders who were trained earlier this year by Israeli volunteer rescue and recovery organization ZAKA.
On Monday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry also announced that it was sending $10,000 to Guatemala through its embassy there, for emergency supplies including medicine, food and blankets.
Volcan de Fuego erupted violently on Sunday, sending lava flows, and a molten stream of mud, ash and gas down the hillside onto the villages of El Rodeo and Los Lotes below. A second explosion followed yesterday, killing more, and hampering rescue efforts.
More than 3,000 people have been evacuated from the surrounding area, two million people affected, and volcanic ash has reached as far as Guatemala City, some 25 miles away.
IsraAID’s team of two experienced aid workers are due to arrive in Guatemala this evening to distribute essential items such as mattresses, blankets and water. They will also conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to see what further help can be offered by the NGO.
“During emergency situations, needs on the ground change very rapidly. We are committed to remaining flexible and responsive to the specific needs of the affected population,” said Ethan Schwartz, communications specialist for IsraAID.
“At the moment, our focus is on responding to the immediate disaster situation. As the situation unfolds, IsraAID will assess and decide on next steps,” he added.
ZAKA team works with emergency services
The ZAKA team is now working with search-and-rescue emergency forces in the disaster area, offering assistance to the hundreds of people affected by the eruption.
They were trained in March this year in a three-day search-and-rescue course designed specifically to deal with mass-casualty incidents like this. The course was led by ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein, and was sponsored by the United Nations’ International Search and Rescue Advisory Group.
“At this stage, the combined teams are working with great care as the area is still very dangerous and there is fear of further eruptions,” said Rabbi Joseph Garman, the chief rabbi in Guatemala and head of ZAKA Guatemala.
Goldstein said that Israeli ZAKA volunteers were also on standby in case they are needed in Guatemala. “We are in constant contact with the local ZAKA volunteers and with the emergency services. If it is necessary, we will send additional ZAKA volunteers to offer assistance,” he said.
The 3,763 meter Volcan de Fuego is one of the most active volcanos in Central America, but the eruptions on Sunday and Monday were the worst since 1974, sending clouds of ash six miles into the air. On Sunday, the lava flows buried the village of El Rodeo, killing people inside their homes and destroying bridges and roads in the region.