Search continues as Guatemala toll rises to 72

The road in front of Fuego volcano is seen covered with ash after the volcano erupted violently, in San Juan Alotenango, Guatemala.(Reuters pic)

ALOTENANGO: Emergency workers searched Tuesday for bodies in mountain villages destroyed by the eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, which officials said killed at least 72 people.

Recovery work was going slowly, officials said, given the nature of the terrain and the way the volcano released large amounts of boiling mud, rock and ash down the mountain.

“We will continue until we find the last victim, though we do not know how many there are. We will probe the area as many times as necessary,” Sergio Cabanas, head of the disaster management agency, told AFP.

The prospects of finding any more survivors was poor, he said.

“If you are trapped in a pyroclastic flow, it’s hard to come out of it alive,” he said, adding that people who may have been caught in the flow may never be found.

At midday on Tuesday, the National Forensics Institute said it had counted 72 bodies, including a child who died in hospital suffering severe burns.

The previous toll was given as 69. Some 46 people were injured, around half of whom are in serious condition, it said.

The 3,763-meter (12,346-foot) volcano erupted early Sunday, spewing out towering plumes of ash and a hail of fiery rock fragments with scalding mud.

Authorities said more than 1.7 million people had been affected by the disaster, including more than 3,000 ordered evacuated, many living in shelters in Escuintla, Sacatepequez and Chimaltenango since Sunday’s eruption.