Guatemala’s death toll reached 69 but was expected to climb into the hundreds following Sunday’s volcanic eruption.
Power outages hampered rescue efforts and were suspended until dawn today.
Only 17 of the dead have been identified so far. The Vulcán de Fuego’s burning ash and mud has left many victims unrecognizable. They will have to be identified through DNA testing or other means.
“We saw bodies totally, totally buried, like you saw in Pompeii,” said Dr. Otto Mazariegos, president of the Association of Municipal and Departmental Firefighters
President Jimmy Morales declared three days of mourning as he toured the disaster area south of the capital. As he left the buried village of El Rodeo, a weeping woman approached his van and he got out to listen.
“Mr. President, my family is missing,” said the woman, Eufemia García. “Send a helicopter to drop water from above because it is burning there. I have three children, a grandchild, all my brothers and sisters, my mother — more than 20 are missing.”
The volcano, named for the fire that it contains, has been erupting since 2002.
Its latest intense activity began on Sunday morning, with a strong explosion shortly before noon. The volcano then continued to spew ash, rocks and gas into the air. A second powerful eruption followed at 6:45 p.m. and the activity finally subsided after 16½ hours, Guatemala’s seismology and volcanology institute said.
Sources: AP, New York Times