At Guatemala volcano, weather and danger hinder search

Efforts were cut short again Wednesday when downpour forced teams to retreat for fear of mudslides

Troublesome rain and more volcanic activity are hindering search and rescue efforts around Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire, but when teams have been able to work in the hardest hit areas the death toll has continued to rise.

Efforts were cut short again Wednesday when a downpour forced teams to retreat for fear of mudslides. Boiling water flowing down the volcano’s slopes from dangerously hot volcanic gas and ash also posed a threat. A day earlier, flows of super-heated volcanic material forced crews to pull back.

But between stoppages, search teams working with shovels and heavy equipment found more bodies from Sunday’s big eruption. Remains were loaded into body bags and carried out on stretchers.

Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Sciences raised the death toll to 99 late in afternoon, an increase of 24 bodies for the day. Only 28 of the total had been identified. At least 197 people were listed as missing.

“Nobody is going to be able to get them out or say how many are buried here,” Efrain Suarez said, standing amid the smoking holes dotting what used to be the village of San Miguel Los Lotes on the flanks of the mountain.

“The bodies are already charred,” the 59-year-old truck driver said. “And if heavy machinery comes in they will be torn apart.”

Rescuers poked metal rods into the ground, sending clouds of smoke pouring into the air in a sign of the super-hot temperatures still remaining below the surface, which firefighters said reached as high as 750 to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (400 to 700 degrees Celsius) in some places.

A day after a new evacuation was ordered due to increasing activity by the volcano, a red alert remained in place for the departments of Escuintla, Sacatepequez and Chimaltenango, and people were advised not to linger near the affected zones.

The country’s seismology and volcanology institute warned of new flows descending through canyons on the volcano’s western slope toward the Pantaleon River, carrying boulders and tree trunks.

At a shelter in the Murray D. Lincoln school in the city of Escuintla, about 10 miles (15 kilometres) from the volcano’s peak, Alfonso Castillo said he and his extended family of 30 had lived on a shared plot in San Miguel Los Lotes where each family had its own home.

The volcano is one of Central America’s most active, and everyone was accustomed to rumbling and spewing smoke, so at first nothing seemed unusual Sunday, the 33-year-old farm worker said. But then a huge cloud of ash came pouring out.

“In a matter of three or four minutes the village disappeared,” Castillo said. It was smothered in what he described as a “sea” of muck that came crashing into homes, inundating people, pets and wildlife.

The family holed up in a house that heated up “like a boiler” inside, he said, then made their way onto the roof and then to the upper story of another, concrete home. After a cellphone call to Castillo’s brother, rescuers arrived and took the family to safety.

But the life they knew was gone.

“Nobody wants to go back there. My children say they would rather be in the streets. … There are many people who are helping us, but we have absolutely nothing. We could not get anything out,” Castillo said. “For us, there is no tomorrow.”

In past disasters in which authorities determined there was no chance of finding survivors and further efforts to recover bodies would be too difficult, areas have been declared burial sites, the final resting place of the victims.

Asked about that possibility, the director of Guatemala’s disaster agency, Sergio Cabanas, said: “Not until the search efforts are over, and it would be left up to the people.”

Mark Stevenson And Sonia Perez D., The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Just Posted

Haig-Brown Writer-in-Residence Songwriters’ Circle Series a chance to explore the craft in a safe place

Terry Jordan giving Campbell River-area songwriters a place to celebrate and share their songs

Pioneering Telegraph Cove whale watching company cast adrift after 38 years

Stubbs Island Whale Watching announced it is ceasing operation

Home care complaints up 45% on Vancouver Island

Number of home care hours delivered down 6%, complaints up 45 %

VIJHL All-Star Weekend at the Brindy a ton of fun for players and fans alike

Campbell River Storm see eight players named to team North in Sunday’s best-of-the-best match-up

No injuries after collapsed floor traps worker at former mill in Campbell River – fire chief

Company says it’s investigating after incident at decommissioned Catalyst facility

Haig-Brown Writer-in-Residence Songwriters’ Circle Series a chance to explore the craft in a safe place

Terry Jordan giving Campbell River-area songwriters a place to celebrate and share their songs

Men allegedly tied to Red Scorpions gang arrested in B.C. drug busts

Nanaimo RCMP have made multiple arrests and seized drugs, weapons and cash

Man pulls over to help injured owl, gets hit by SUV

Chase RCMP say owl flew away while they were on scene

VIDEO: Soon-to-be-extinct caribou moved to B.C. interior

The three caribou are being held in pens north of Revelstoke

B.C. cop who assaulted homeless man may avoid criminal record

Kamloops RCMP Const. Todd Henderson was charged with one count of assault causing bodily harm

Four B.C. students sent to hospital after school bus crash

Mission RCMP say hospitalization a precaution, 14 students were on board

B.C. dairy farmers say milk cup is half full in new Canada Food Guide

Despite what seems like a demotion, B.C. Dairy Association insists its inclusion is still integral

$20K pay gap between women, men in Canadian tech jobs

The report defines tech workers as people either producing or making extensive use of technology, regardless of industry

Catholic student says he didn’t disrespect Native American

Many saw the white teenagers, who had travelled to Washington for an anti-abortion rally, appearing to mock the Native Americans

Most Read