WATCH: Guatemala town destroyed by volcano thought it was safe
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The town of San Miguel Los Lotes, Guatemala is nestled on the flanks of the extremely active volcano, the village was square in the path of a gulch that channeled the downhill flow of fast-moving hot rock, ash and debris when the mountain erupted Sunday, burying homes up to their rooftops.
At least 109 people were killed and nearly 200 remain missing, according to the most recent official toll.
The volcano has been almost continuously active since 2002, and over the past year, it has repeatedly sent lava or super heated flows of ash and debris running down ravines on its flanks, sometimes for more than a mile (more than 2 kilometers).
Still, locals said that since the village was first settled in the 1950s as housing for coffee pickers who worked on local plantations, such rivers of ash and rock had never flowed through Los Lotes.
Residents thought they were safe.
Locals said any ash flows normally would travel down a deeper gulch, called Las Lajas, just to the north.
But in the decades since the Volcano of Fire's last major eruption, the government had built a bridge across the gully of Las Lajas. That bridge — seen collapsing as the ash flow hit it in a video widely shared on social media — may have had fatal consequences.
The downward flow became blocked by the bridge and debris that piled up behind it, causing it to overflow into the narrow valley just to the south, where Los Lotes is located.
It changed course because the gully couldn't hold the ash flow and disaster preparedness officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
A man searches for his missing family after the Volcan de Fuego or "Volcano of Fire" eruption, in San Miguel Los Lotes, Guatemala, . (AP Photo/Moisés Castillo)
The government had also allowed a luxury golf course and housing development to be built near the volcano, and it too was ruined, though there were no reports of anyone killed there.
99 Percent of natural disaster problems happen in poor, informally built communities, and one complicating factor for towns like Los Lotes is that they have existed for decades.
Most of the people don't want to relocate because, for example, there are people who have lived in Los Lotes for 50 or 60 years and they have never had a problem.