Two cataclysmic events – two massive volcanoes. Fuego, the Mountain of Fire, in Guatemala and Kilauea in Hawaii. Within a month of each other they erupt. Both unleash terror, but in very different ways.
Through unique eyewitness material, much of it gathered on cell phones, we live through terrifying events as they happen. Two cameramen who follow each eruption from day one provide a different, but equally powerful, perspective.
At Fuego in Guatemala hundreds of people are killed. Soon after the eruption, a boiling cloud of gas, ash and rocks roars down the volcano’s slopes. Known as ‘pyroclastic flow’ it travels at up to 200 miles per hour and can be superheated to 1000 degrees Celsius. The searing ash burns your lungs. There’s no escape. Hundreds are killed. A suffocating layer of ash meters thick covers the landscape. The town of San Miguel Los Lotes looks like a modern day Pompeii. The last moments of life have been frozen in time. Hundreds of residents are killed and it’s an emotional rollercoaster as the humanitarian crisis unfolds. Why weren’t people evacuated before the eruption?
In Hawaii there’s no loss of life but the scale of the destruction is mind-blowing. And it’s a very different type of eruption. Where Fuego is a typical conical volcano that erupts from a vent at the peak, Kilauea creeps up on its victims…
Kilauea is a ‘shield’ volcano. It’s flat without a recognizable peak. Initially, small earthquakes shake the ground and cracks appear in roads. It’s a sign that millions of tons of magma from the crater-lake are leaking out through underground tunnels. Eventually the lava bursts to the surface through vents. Lava ‘fountains’ spurt hundreds of feet into the air. Eventually, massive rivers of lava flow across Hawaii’s Big Island incinerating everything in their path. Thousands of residents have to evacuate. Over the next month 4 million cubic feet of lava is spewed out, changing the shape of the island forever.
The scale of the eruptions took both communities by surprise. Why were they so hard to predict? And why were the eruptions so different?
To find answers to these questions we consult leading scientists across the world, including at the Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program in Washington DC. Every day roughly 20 volcanoes are erupting. The scientific data from every eruption is channeled to the Global Volcanism Program. It’s only by having long-term data sets that we can start to understand the behavior of volcanoes. The data from Guatemala and Hawaii could help save lives in the future.
As long as we live in the shadow of volcanoes then the more we learn the better our chances in the next eruption.