South Florida volunteers head to Guatemala after Fuego Volcano

Death toll continues to rise after volcano eruption

By Alex Finnie - Reporter

MIAMI - Michael Capponi, founder of the Global Empowerment Mission, and his team left Wednesday to Guatemala, where they will meet with government officials to go over what is needed following the volcano eruption.

The trip will be a 48-hour assessment visit. The team will then return home to pick up more volunteers for the second mission, but they said they are prepared for whatever comes their way during this trip

"I woke up yesterday. I saw this on the phone. Meditated by sunrise and that's it. By 9 a.m., we made a decision," Capponi said. 

That decision was to travel to Guatemala to assist the thousands of people devastated by the Fuego Volcano. The images surfacing are impossible to ignore. With countless people missing and a death toll on the rise, the Global Empowerment Mission knew it was time to act, and fast.

"You got to be on the ground to really understand. Every single catastrophe is completely different. It has completely different needs," Capponi said. 

The need in Guatemala is urgent. GEM, which is a grassroots mission organization based in South Florida, will be bringing 1,500 gas masks to the country. 

The volcano has been described as the biggest eruption since the 1970s. One volunteer, Robert Baldwin, said he was there for the 1974 volcano.

"The best way I could describe it is just being in an atomic blast. It's just a huge cloud -- 30,000 feet," Baldwin said. 

Baldwin took his firsthand experience to Guatemala for the mission trip, alongside other volunteers such as Lourdes Sanchez-Breton, the founder of United Badges of Honor. 

"We go ahead and do medical and first aid and try to save as many lives as possible," she said.

Breton is combining her first aid experience as a firefighter with GEM's global relief mission. 

"What I am walking into, I have no idea," she said. "I am looking forward to getting there on the ground (and) assessing the situation."

"Imagine everything you own turns to dust -- everything. All your clothes, your food, your pictures. There is nothing," Capponi said. "They are lucky if they are alive."

Copyright 2018 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.