EL RODEO (Guatemala) • In makeshift morgues and on streets blanketed with ash, family members of the victims of a volcanic eruption in Guatemala desperately searched for the missing .
At least 69 people have been killed, Guatemala's national disaster agency Conred said yesterday, as more bodies were pulled from the debris around the village of El Rodeo, which was hard hit by the eruption. Just a fraction of the victims have been identified so far.
At a makeshift morgue in the city of Escuintla, about 30km from the explosion, 46-year-old Francisco Quiche gave a blood sample to try to identify his son's body, though he already knew his son's fate.
After evacuating the town of El Rodeo with his family, the welder returned to search for his 22-year-old son and daughter-in-law. Peering through a hole in the wall of his son's home, Mr Quiche saw the young man's body. He said he feared his daughter-in-law is dead as well. "My son was just 22 years old, the same as my daughter-in-law, who was expecting a baby."
The eruption of Fuego - Spanish for "fire" - on Sunday was the biggest in more than four decades, forcing the closure of Guatemala's main international airport and dumping ash on thousands of hectares of coffee farms on the volcano's slopes.
By Monday evening, the volcano's activity was lessening, and was expected to continue to diminish in the coming days, Mr Eddy Sanchez, director of the seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh, told reporters.
The task of retrieving bodies on Monday was hindered by another eruption and an apparent landslide on the southern slopes of Fuego triggered fresh evacuations. Rains are expected to continue to complicate searches in the coming days, Mr Sanchez said.
Elsewhere, the process of mourning had begun. Local television footage showed residents of villages walking through the streets, caskets hoisted on their shoulders.
Structures and trees at the base of the Fuego volcano were completely coated in brown and grey.
The eruption sent columns of ash and smoke 10km into the sky, dusting several regions with ash. More than 3,200 people have been evacuated, Conred said.
It posted a photo showing the flows of gas and mud sweeping down a mountainside and across a valley, engulfing a village. "The landscape on the volcano is totally changed, everything is totally destroyed," government volcanologist Gustavo Chigna said on radio.
Fuego, one of several active volcanoes out of 34 in the Central American country, is near the colonial city of Antigua, a Unesco world heritage site that has survived several volcanic eruptions.