Guatemala volcano dies down, evacuees return home

SANTA LUCIA COTZUMALGUAPA, Guatemala Fri Sep 14, 2012 5:52pm EDT

1 of 7. A family sit together at a shelter after being evacuated from their home in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, 90 km (56 miles) south of Guatemala City, September 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/William Gularte

SANTA LUCIA COTZUMALGUAPA, Guatemala (Reuters) - Hundreds of Guatemalans forced to flee when the Fuego volcano spewed ash more than three kilometers high started to return home on Friday as it simmered down, emergency officials said.

The volcano, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the capital, Guatemala City, erupted early on Thursday, belching a black cloud of ash above the crater and spitting long streams of lava down the mountainside.

"The activity at the volcano has died down and people are starting to return home," David de Leon, spokesman for the Guatemalan emergency commission CONRED, told Reuters.

Emergency officials started to evacuate nearly 11,000 people from communities around the 3,760 meter (12,340 foot) volcano on Thursday. They later scaled back the plan as the activity eased and ultimately took 860 people to shelters, De Leon said.

On Thursday, the ash cloud above the volcano was around 300 meters high and lava flows had slowed, creeping down the southwest side of the volcano, CONRED said.

"We're glad to be going back," said Wendy Cux, a 23-year-old mother who spent the night with her four children in a local school roughly 25 kilometers from the volcano's crater.

"We don't think there's any major damage, but there will be ash we'll have to clean up," she added.

Guatemala's coffee growers' association Anacafe said that they are assessing the effects of the eruption on the country's coffee crop. They noted that the light coat of ash that fell on coffee fields around the volcano would be easy to clean.

(Editing by Simon Gardner and Christopher Wilson)