Res­cuers bat­tle heat and wet as death toll climbs

Whanganui Chronicle - - World -

Trou­ble­some rain and more vol­canic ac­tiv­ity are hin­der­ing search and res­cue ef­forts around Gu­atemala’s Vol­can de Fuego, 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 yes­ter­day 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 s t op­pages, search teams work­ing with shov­els and heavy equip­ment f ound more bod­ies f r om Mon­day’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 yes­ter­day, 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 al r eady 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 s i gn t hat s uper- hot tem­per­a­tures re­main below the sur­face. Fire­fight­ers said they reached as high as 700C.

At a shel­ter in the Murray D. Lin­coln school in the city of Es­cuintla, about 15km 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.

“In a mat­ter of three or four min­utes t he vi l l age di s ap­peared,” Castillo said. It was smoth­ered in what he de­scribed as a “sea” of muck.

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.

Res­cue work­ers have saved farm an­i­mals as they have searched for sur­vivors from Mon­day’s erup­tion. PHOTO/AP

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