At least 52 dead, and dozens still missing after Guatemala’s biggest earthquake in more than three decades.
The 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit off the country’s Pacific coast on Wednesday, leaving many villagers near the Mexican border trapped under rubble, as homes and cars were crushed.
Subsequent landslides have blocked roads, making both evacuation and rescue efforts more difficult.
“It’s very sad to meet people here who are waiting to find their families who are still buried,” said President Otto Perez in San Marcos, the mountainous region most affected.
“It’s really a tragedy and we will do all we can to help the families that are suffering.”
Al Jazeera’s Rachel Levin, reporting from San Marcos, said a hill had collapsed the day before on a group of seven people, including a five-year-old child.
“We have seen several collapsed homes, and people there are staying with neighbours. We know that supplies are on their way to the most affected areas,” she said. “It has been traumatic, people here are still in a state of shock.”
Hitting 42km below the surface, it was the strongest earthquake to strike the Central American nation since 1976.
In San Cristobal Cucho, in San Marcos state, all but one of an 11-member family died, buried under rubble, volunteer fireman Ovidio Fuentes told local radio. Only the 17-year-old son survived.
More than 16,000 emergency rations packs have been distributed by more than 2,000 soldiers mobilised to assist relief efforts. At least 73,000 people remain without electricity.
The funerals of all those killed in the impoverished region will be paid for by the government, said Perez. But despite overtures made by officials, some in the devastated area requested improvements be made to facilities there.
“We ask the president to improve conditions at the hospital,” said Ingrid Lopez, whose 72-year-old aunt had her legs crushed by a falling wall. “There isn’t enough staff.”
Office workers evacuated their buildings in Guatemala City, 160km from the quake’s epicentre, but soon returned to work.
“It was really big. I felt quite nauseous,” said 32-year-old secretary Vanessa Castillo.
Building janitor Jorge Gamboa said: “I was in the bathroom. When I came out the office was empty and I thought, what’s happening? They didn’t even say goodbye.”
The state capital of San Marcos was among the worst-hit cities. Many of the colourful adobe buildings in the 10-square-mile centre of San Marcos were either cracked or reduced to rubble, including the police station and the courthouse. The earthquake left a large gash in one of the streets, and hundreds of frightened villagers stood in the open, refusing to go back inside.
More than 300 people, including firefighters, policemen and villagers, tried to dig through a half ton of sand at a quarry in the commercial centre in a desperate attempt to rescue seven people believed buried alive.
Damage to San Marcos’ prison has forced authorities to transfer 101 inmates to another jail.
“We’d rather stay here and reconstruct the jail than be displaced,” said inmate Benjamin Tomas Gomez. “That
will be hard for our families,”
The quake was felt in El Salvador and more than 1,200km away in Mexico City, where some people also fled offices and homes.