In Guatemala, death toll from volcano rises to at least 69


Associated Press

EL RODEO, Guatemala

Rescuers pulled survivors and bodies Monday from the charred aftermath of the powerful eruption of Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire, as the death toll rose to 69 and was expected to go higher from a disaster that caught residents of remote mountain hamlets off guard, with little or no time to flee to safety.

Using shovels and backhoes, emergency workers dug through the debris and mud, perilous labor on smoldering terrain still hot enough to melt shoe soles a day after the volcano exploded in a hail of ash, smoke and molten rock.

Bodies were so thickly coated with ash that they looked like statues, and rescuers were forced to use sledgehammers to break through the roofs of houses buried in debris up to their rooflines to try to see if anyone was trapped inside.

Fanuel Garcia, director of the National Institute of Forensic Sciences, said at least 69 bodies had been recovered and 13 of those had been identified.

“It is very difficult for us to identify them because some of the dead lost their features or their fingerprints” from the red-hot flows, Garcia said. “We are going to have to resort to other methods ... and if possible take DNA samples to identify them.”

Guatemala’s disaster agency, Conred, said nearly 2,000 people are in shelters and more than 3,200 were evacuated from the areas near the volcano west of Guatemala City.

Guatemalan authorities say they had been closely monitoring the Volcano of Fire, one of Central America’s most active, after activity picked up around 6 a.m. Sunday.

The volcano has registered a number of minor eruptions over the years, and no evacuations were ordered as scientific experts reported the activity was decreasing.

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