Guatemalan authorities reacted slowly to signs of the Fuego volcano’s impending eruption on June 3, contributing to one of the most tragic natural disasters in recent Guatemalan history according to the growing voices dissatisfied with the government’s response.
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The volcano rumbled to life early that Sunday. By midday, it was spewing ash in smoking columns miles high that then fell, dusting a wide swath of the Central American country.
But with the mountain’s rumbles and the first ash showers, many villagers made a fatal bet to stay put, gambling that luck, which had protected them for decades, would hold once again.
Rescuers searching for bodies walked on the roofs of houses as if they were floors, digging down into buildings where they have found only corpses of those who stayed behind. Only a few dogs, chickens, rabbits and cats survived.
As the burning volcanic matter rushed at them, some escaped on foot, others by car.
“I took out the pickup truck and escaped with a lot of neighbors when we saw the smoke,” said Alejandro Velasquez, 46, a farmer.
Others with still less time ran through bushes and leaped across barbed wire and wooden fences to reach the main road of the town of Escuintla, near Los Lotes.
Many lost 10 to 50 relatives each, descendents of intertwining generations of a small families who settled in Los Lotes more than 40 years ago.
They refuse to give up hope of finding relatives – or at least their remains. “My entire family is missing,” said Jose Ascon. The young man argued with police who had temporarily halted rescue efforts after more flows from the eruption.
“I would give my life to find my family.”