SAN CRISTOBAL CUCHO, Guatemala (Reuters) - Ivan Vasquez cried as he hunched over the 10 wooden caskets of his parents, six siblings and two cousins who were struck down in a rock quarry collapse caused by this week’s powerful earthquake.
Vasquez was studying to take an accounting exam when the 7.4-magnitude quake struck on Wednesday, killing his entire immediate family as they dug in the quarry for material to reinforce the walls of their adobe home.
Braced by friends and relatives as he neared collapse, the 18 year old dressed in a black sweater and dark jeans choked down water between screams.
“Why did you leave me,” he sobbed. “You were all such good people.”
Wednesday’s quake was the most powerful to hit the Central American nation since 1976, when a 7.5-magnitude quake killed more than 20,000 people. The quake destroyed roads and forced evacuations as far away as Mexico City.
Officials estimate that 52 people have been killed and say at least three more are missing. Most of the dead were buried under debris in the San Marcos state, a mountainous region near the Mexican border.
Vasquez’s father Egidio, 45, was well known around town as a skilled builder and president of the local sports association.
He left for work on Wednesday morning with his 43-year-old wife and their four sons, two daughters and two nephews aged between three and 14. When the earthquake struck, the quarry wall caved in, burying them all under tons of sand and rock.
“There were working for their lives and they lost their lives,” Egidio’s sister Albertina Vasquez said. “I‘m never going to see my brother again.”
More than 1,000 people led by the mayor followed the funeral procession through the rural village to the family grave site as a band’s somber music sounded throughout the small town.
“Today they leave a large void in the community of San Cristobal Cucho,” said Mayor Pedro Vasquez, who is not related to the family, as he fought back tears. “My heart and soul ache.”
Family members and friends huddled together, supporting each other and mourning the death of Egidio Vasquez and his family.
“He was a great friend and he will continue to be,” said Octavio Orozco. Rescue workers in bright yellow helmets were still digging through the rubble in San Marcos to find one more person who might be buried.
Some 650 people slept in shelters on Thursday night after more than 3,500 houses were damaged in the nation of 14.5 million people and countries such as Spain and Venezuela have pledged support for recovery efforts.
Guatemala President Otto Perez said he will send a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama demanding that the United States cease deportations of Guatemalans in light of the destruction.
“I hope they make the decision to grant temporary protection status to Guatemalans living in the United States,” Perez told journalists.
Reporting by Mike McDonald; Editing by Michael O'Boyle and Lisa Shumaker