Rescue workers on Monday pulled more bodies from under the dust and rubble left by an explosive eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego Volcano, bringing the death toll to at least 69.
Of them, 17 have been identified so far, Guatemalan National Institute of Forensic Sciences head Fanuel Garcia said.
In addition, there are 46 people injured, most of them seriously, and more than 1.7 million have been hit by the disaster, including 3,271 ordered evacuated and 1,787 in shelters in the departments of Escuintla, Sacatepequez and Chimaltenango.
The volcano erupted early on 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 upward within hours as bodies were recovered from villages razed by the tumbling mud.
“There are missing persons, but we do not know how many,” Guatemalan National Disaster Coordinator Sergio Cabanas said.
A roll call of communities on the slopes of the volcano was under way.
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.
Communities located on its southern slope were the worst hit.
Several of the dead were children.
“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, said.
She was searching for her three children, her mother, nephews and siblings.
Garcia, from the village of San Miguel 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.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who has declared three days of national mourning, visited the disaster zone.
“The volcano has erupted before, but never like this,” said Gustavo Larius, a 27-year-old bricklayer searching the streets of his village for missing family and friends, a handkerchief pressed over his mouth and nose.
The eruption sent ash billowing over the surrounding area, turning plants and trees gray, and blanketing streets, cars and people.
Farmers covered in ash fled for their lives as civil defense workers tried to relocate them to shelters.
“This time we were saved; in another [eruption] no,” said Efrain Gonzalez, 52, sitting on the floor of a shelter in the city of Escuintla, where he arrived with his wife and one-year-old daughter.
Gonzalez was overwhelmed with despair, as two more of his children, aged 10 and four, were missing.
They were trapped in their home, which was flooded with hot mud that descended from the volcano.
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