Strong earthquake off Guatemala kills at least 48

Thu Nov 8, 2012 8:05am EST
 
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By Jorge Dan and Milton Castillo

SAN MARCOS, Guatemala (Reuters) - A strong earthquake off the coast of Guatemala killed at least 48 people and trapped others under rubble on Wednesday, crushing homes and cars, destroying roads and forcing evacuations as far away as Mexico City.

Most of the dead were buried under debris in San Marcos state, a mountainous region near the Mexican border. Landslides triggered by the 7.4-magnitude quake blocked highways and complicated rescue efforts.

It was the strongest earthquake to hit the Central American nation since 1976, when a 7.5-magnitude quake killed more than 20,000 people.

President Otto Perez, who confirmed the death toll after returning to the capital Guatemala City from a lightning trip to San Marcos, said that as many as 23 people were unaccounted for, while 153 people were being housed in emergency shelters.

"It's very sad to meet people here who are waiting to find their families who are still buried," Perez said in San Marcos. "It's really a tragedy and we will do all we can to help the families that are suffering."

Rescue workers in bright yellow helmets worked through the night pulling bodies from the rubble-strewn streets of San Pedro Sacatepequez, San Marcos, as dazed locals looked on, taking stock of the damage.

"Thank God we're alive," said resident Arnulfo Portillo. "To be honest, there's quite a few families who have been hit badly, but we're a tight-knight community and we'll come out on top."

In San Cristobal Cucho, also in San Marcos, 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.   Continued...

 
Rescuers carry the body of one of the seven victims killed in a landslide after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in El Recreo, in the outskirts of San Pedro Sacatepequez in the San Marcos region, about 250 km (120 miles) south of Guatemala City, November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez