Rescue workers pulled more bodies today from under the dust and rubble left by an explosive eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, bringing the death toll to at least 65.

Disaster Relief Agency spokesman David de Leon told a briefing that after hours of searching for survivors, the number of dead had hit at least 65.

In addition, there are 46 people injured, most of them seriously, more than 1.7 million being hit by the disaster, including 3,271 ordered evacuated and 1,787 in shelters in the departments of Escuintla, Sacatepequez and Chimaltenango since Sunday’s eruption.

The 3,763-metre volcano erupted early Sunday, spewing out towering plumes of ash and a hail of fiery rock fragments with scalding mud. Authorities had warned the death toll could rise after searches resumed for survivors in communities on the mountain’s southern flank.

After an initial toll of 25 dead, it was revised upwards within hours as bodies were recovered from villages razed by the tumbling mud. “There are missing persons, but we do not know how many,” said Sergio Cabanas of Guatemala’s disaster management agency. A roll call of communities on the slopes of the volcano was under way.

 

Guatemala volcano deaths
View of the coffins of seven people who died following the eruption of the Fuego volcano, at the morgue in Alotenango municipality, Sacatepequez, about 65 km southwest of Guatemala City, on June 4, 2018. (Photo: AFP PHOTO / JOHAN ORDONEZ)

 

The speed and ferocity of the eruption took mountain communities by surprise, with many of the dead found in or around their homes. Cabanas said those who were killed had been overrun by fast-moving burning material discharged by the volcano Sunday. Communities located on its southern slope were the worst hit. Several of the dead were children.

An AFP journalist saw at least three bodies burned in the rubble of the village of San Miguel Los Lotes, where rescue workers, soldiers and police were desperately searching for survivors.

Dead dogs, chickens and ducks also lay among the mud and ash, much of it still smoking.

“I do not want to leave, but go back, and there is nothing I can do to save my family,” a weeping Eufemia Garcia, 48, told AFP. She was searching for her three children, her mother, nephews and siblings.

Garcia, from Los Lotes, said she escaped with the help of her husband. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was deeply saddened by the “tragic loss of life and the significant damage caused by the eruption,” and said the UN was ready to assist national rescue and relief efforts.