Only a few of Guatemala volcano’s dead have been identified


EL RODEO, Guatemala (AP) — People of the villages skirting Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire have begun mourning the few dead who could be identified after an eruption killed dozens by engulfing them in floods of searing ash and mud.

Mourners cried over caskets lined up in a row in the main park of San Juan Alotenango on Monday evening before rescuers stopped their work for another night.

There was no electricity in the hardest hit areas of Los Lotes and El Rodeo, so most searching continued only until sunset. As dawn broke Tuesday, the volcano continued to rattle, with what the country’s volcanology institute said were eight to 10 moderate eruptions per hour — vastly less intense than Sunday’s big blasts.

Guatemalan authorities put the death toll at 69, but officials said just 17 had been identified so far because the intense heat of the volcanic debris flows left most bodies unrecognizable.

“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, said Fanuel Garcia, director of the National Institute of Forensic Sciences. “We are going to have to resort to other methods ... and if possible take DNA samples to identify them.”

Authorities say at least 46 people were injured. Twelve shelters were housing 1,877 people.

Sunday’s eruption 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. Rescuers used sledgehammers to break through the roofs of houses buried in debris up to their rooflines to check for anyone trapped inside.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.