Two dead, thousands flee as killing volcano erupts in El Salvador

The largest volcano of El Salvador erupted for the first time in a century on Saturday, killing two people and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.

The volcano blasted burning rock, gas and ash high into the air yesterday.

Three communities in the shadow of the smoking mountain have been evacuated.

"The important thing is to save people, that is the first phase of this emergency," President Tony Saca told reporters.

The two people killed were trapped under a landslide caused by the volcano's eruption. A few homes were destroyed. "I have lost everything. I have no money, nothing, just my children and my husband," said 73-year-old Rosa Flores.

The volcano, which is known as both Santa Ana and as Ilamatepec, is El Salvador's largest and highest volcano. It's been increasingly active since July 2004, but has not erupted since 1904, reports CBC.

According to Reuters, a television crew in the area on Sunday reported a scene of abandoned villages and deserted shacks.

Emergency services dug for the two corpses under torrential rain that has drenched the country in recent days and which experts say may have helped cause the mudslide.

Ilamatepec is the largest of El Salvador's 23 volcanoes and stands 7,800 feet (2,380 meters) above sea level. It is located about 40 miles (60 km) west of the capital in an area that counts for much of the country's coffee crop.

El Salvador's vice minister of agriculture said studies would begin on Monday to determine damage to the crop from volcanic ash covering as many as 3,460 acres (1,400 hectares) of agricultural land.

El Salvador's coffee is prized by gourmet buyers partly because of rich nutrients in the country's volcanic soil, but volcanic ash can carry levels of sulfur lethal to plants.

Manfrei Chavez, a member of the Finca San Rafael coffee cooperative 5 miles (8 km) from the volcano's crater, said by telephone that he and fellow workers had guarded the plantation during the eruption while his wife and children fled.

"Everything's back to normal ... but there is still a strong smell of sulfur," he said.

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