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Rescuers frantically dig through ash after Guatemala volcano kills at least 62

Rescuers frantically dug through ash in Guatemala on Monday in a desperate search for survivors of a volcanic eruption that killed dozens.

Using rescue dogs and shovels, rescuers combed through the remains of homes destroyed Sunday when cascading flows of volcanic matter erupted from Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire about 35 miles west of the capital, Guatemala City. Authorities said the volcano was unlikely to erupt again, but a massive column of ash still hung in the sky Monday, leading officials to close Guatemala’s international airport and urge residents to stay inside.

Rescuers searching the poor agricultural communities near the volcano found the bodies of the dead more often than they found survivors.

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(Swetha Kannan / Los Angeles Times )
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The official death toll announced by Guatemala’s disaster response agency was 62, but rescuers on the ground said the number of casualities was much higher.

In and around a single small farming town, El Rodeo, rescuers recovered 38 bodies on Monday, according to local firefighter Luis Pineda. He said they discovered just one survivor, a man who was treated for second-degree burns.

Volunteer firefighter German Padilla said there was a moment of hope when a survivor reported a cellphone communication from a person inside a home that had been in the lava’s path. But when rescuers reached the home hours later, they found the burned corpses of the entire family, including five children.

Neighbors stand outside a temporary morgue near Volcan de Fuego or Volcano of Fire in Alotenango, Gu
Residents stand outside a temporary morgue near the Volcan de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, in Alotenango, Guatemala, on Sunday.
(Luis Soto / Associated Press )

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In El Rodeo, bodies wrapped in tarps and blankets lay side by side on a dirt road as survivors urgently sought information about missing loved ones.

Eufemia Garcia, 38, wandered in a daze.

She wasn’t home when the lava swept into her community, burying everything in its path, but her three children were.

“It all happened in an instant,” she said. “Not minutes, but seconds. The lava came down and swept everything away.”

Her children, all in their 20s, had not been found.

Rescue workers walk on rooftops in Escuintla, Guatemala, Monday, June 4, 2018, blanketed with heavy
Rescue workers walk on rooftops blanketed with heavy ash in Escuintla, Guatemala, on Monday.
(Luis Soto / Associated Press )

The Volcano of Fire is one of Central America’s most active volcanoes, rising 12,346 feet above sea level. The volcano also erupted earlier this year, according to a statement from Guatemala’s seismology and volcanology institute, but that eruption was not deadly.

According to the institute, the volcano shot a 3,000-foot-tall column of ash into the air this time and spewed lava that reached temperatures of 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Ash from the volcano fell on Guatemala City and in the town of Antigua, a colonial-era city popular with tourists, as burning-hot lahar — a slurry of lava, rocky debris and water — gushed down onto the communities that dot the side of the volcano. Video showed lahar slamming into and partly destroying a highway bridge.

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Survivor Sofio Morales, a coffee farmer, said many coffee, bean and corn farms were destroyed by the lava.

“Everything is ruined,” he said.

Thanks to God, he said, his wife and his 10 children were safe. But as he waited at an evacuation center in El Rodeo, he worried about the future.

“The whole crop was ruined,” he said. “What are we are going to do to feed our children?”

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Twitter: @katelinthicum

Special correspondent Gamazo reported from El Rodeo, Guatemala, and staff writer Linthicum from Tijuana. Cecilia Sanchez in The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.


UPDATES:

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12:30 p.m.: This article has been updated with a higher death toll.

11:10 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with staff reporting, higher death toll.

This article was originally posted at 8:10 a.m.


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