‘Nobody is left’: Guatemala volcano ravaged entire families

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A new smoke column billows from the lower part of the Fuego Volcano forcing rescue operations to be suspended and the evacuation of everyone in the village of San Miguel Los Lotes, in Escuintla Department, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, on June 5, 2018. (AFP)
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Rescue workers search in El Rodeo, one of the hamlets in the disaster area near the Volcan de Fuego, or "Volcano of Fire," in Escuintla, Guatemala, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (AP)
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Policemen walk along the street at an area affected by the eruption of the Fuego volcano in the community of San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla, Guatemala June 5, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 06 June 2018
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‘Nobody is left’: Guatemala volcano ravaged entire families

  • 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
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was deeply saddened by the “tragic loss of life and the significant damage caused by the eruption,” and said the UN was ready to assist national rescue and relief efforts

ESCUINTLA, Guatemala: Lilian Hernandez wept as she spoke the names of aunts, uncles, cousins, her grandmother and two great-grandchildren — 36 family members in all — missing and presumed dead in the explosion of Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire.
“My cousins Ingrid, Yomira, Paola, Jennifer, Michael, Andrea and Silvia, who was just 2-years-old,” the distraught woman said — a litany that brought into sharp relief the scope of a disaster for which the final death toll is far from clear.
What was once a collection of verdant canyons, hillsides and farms resembled a moonscape of ash, rock and debris on Tuesday in the aftermath of the fast-moving avalanche of super-heated muck that roared into the tightly knit villages on the mountain’s flanks, devastating entire families.
Two days after the eruption, the terrain was still too hot in many places for rescue crews to search for bodies or — increasingly unlikely with each passing day — survivors.
By afternoon a new column of smoke was rising from the mountain and Guatemala’s disaster agency said volcanic material was descending its south side, prompting an evacuation order and the closure of a nearby national highway. Rescuers, police and journalists hurried to leave the area as a siren wailed and loudspeakers blared, “Evacuate!“
On Sunday, when the volcano exploded in a massive cloud of ash and molten rock, Hernandez said her brother and sister ran to check on their 70-year-old grandmother on the family’s plot of land in the village of San Miguel Los Lotes.
“She said that it was God’s will, she was not going to flee,” Hernandez said. “She was unable to walk. It was hard for her to get around.”
Her brother and sister made it to safety, but their grandmother has not been seen again.
Hernandez and her husband, Francisco Ortiz, survived because they moved out of Los Lotes just two months ago to begin a new life on a small plot of land.
The couple has been staying at a Mormon church in the nearby city of Escuintla and going to a morgue there to await news. So far only the body of one relative, her 28-year-old cousin, Cesar Gudiel Escalante, has been recovered and identified.
“The people ended up buried in nearly 3 meters of lava,” Ortiz said. “Nobody is left there.”
Other families experienced similar tragedies.
As President Jimmy Morales toured the area and met with survivors on Monday, a woman begged him to help her loved ones in Los Lotes.
“Mr. President, my family is missing. Send a helicopter to throw water over them because they are burning,” she said. “I have three children, a grandchild, and all my brothers, my mother, all my family are there. ... More than 20 have disappeared.”
The fast-moving flows with temperatures as high as 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (700 Celsius) and hot ash and volcanic gases that can cause rapid asphyxiation caught many off guard.
On Tuesday, it was clear that the official death toll of at least 70 was sure to climb and fears spread that anyone still stuck in the buried houses was dead and would remain entombed there.
At a roadblock, Joel Gonzalez complained that police wouldn’t let him through to see his family’s house in the village of San Juan Alotenango, where his 76-year-old father lay buried in ash along with four other relatives.
“They say they are going to leave them buried there, and we are not going to know if it’s really them,” the 39-year-old farmer said. “They are taking away our opportunity to say goodbye.”
A spokesman for Guatemala’s disaster agency, Conred, said that once it reaches 72 hours after the eruption, there will be little chance of finding anyone alive.
“We don’t rule out the possibility of some person alive, but the condition in which the homes are makes that possibility pretty unlikely,” said the spokesman, Juan Sanchez, adding that some of the ash was still at temperatures between 750 and 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (400 and 700 degrees Celsius).
In the devastated town of El Rodeo, gray soot coated trees and homes and an ash-covered deer lay dead in the debris. Rescuers wearing hard hats, masks and goggles used shovels to dig through homes, unearthing at least one body burned beyond recognition.
Amid the destruction, there was one glimmer of hope: The rescue of a black-and-white dog found alive in a home where four people lay dead.
“He is called Rambo,” said volunteer firefighter Sergio Vazquez, who carried the dog on his shoulders to safety. “It may be that this dog no longer has a family.”
Vazquez had no explanation for how the dog survived while the people died.
Sanchez, the Conred spokesman, said many dogs and cats had been rescued with burns on their paws from the mud and ash, some blinded from the volcanic gases.
“Animals have a different sort of resistance ... and different behavior when it comes to finding refuge,” Sanchez said.
Only 17 of the bodies recovered so far have been identified due to the extreme heat that charred their features and burned off fingerprints, and authorities hope other means such as DNA testing can help.
Authorities say at least 46 people were injured in the eruption, and 12 shelters were housing 1,877 people.
The Guatemalan military said a US Air Force plane was flying in Tuesday to take about a half-dozen children who suffered burns for treatment in Galveston, Texas.
Lacking electricity in the hardest hit areas, emergency crews were carrying out rescue efforts during daylight hours and calling them off for safety reasons when darkness fell.
As dawn broke Tuesday, the volcano continued to rattle with what Guatemala’s Volcanology Institute said were eight to 10 moderate eruptions per hour — vastly less intense than Sunday’s big blasts.
 


Mexico demands apology for colonial ‘abuses,’ Spain hits back

Handout photo released by the Mexican presidency showing Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador answering questions during a press conference at the Palacio Nacional, in Mexico City on March 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Mexico demands apology for colonial ‘abuses,’ Spain hits back

  • “The government of Spain deeply regrets that the letter the Mexican president sent to his majesty the king, whose contents we firmly reject, has been made public,” it said in a statement

MEXICO CITY: The 500-year-old wounds of the Spanish conquest were ripped open afresh on Monday when Mexico’s president urged Spain and the Vatican to apologize for their “abuses” — a request Madrid said it “firmly rejects.”
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist, reopened the debate over Spain’s centuries of dominance in the New World with a video posted to social media, urging Spanish King Felipe VI and Pope Francis to apologize for the conquest and the rights violations committed in its aftermath.
“I have sent a letter to the king of Spain and another to the pope calling for a full account of the abuses and urging them to apologize to the indigenous peoples (of Mexico) for the violations of what we now call their human rights,” Lopez Obrador, 65, said in the video, filmed at the ruins of the indigenous city of Comalcalco.
“There were massacres and oppression. The so-called conquest was waged with the sword and the cross. They built their churches on top of the (indigenous) temples,” he said.
“The time has come to reconcile. But let us ask forgiveness first.”
Spain’s reaction was swift and unequivocal.
“The government of Spain deeply regrets that the letter the Mexican president sent to his majesty the king, whose contents we firmly reject, has been made public,” it said in a statement.
“The arrival, 500 years ago, of Spaniards to present Mexican territory cannot be judged in the light of contemporary considerations,” it said.
“Our two brother nations have always known how to read our shared past without anger and with a constructive perspective, as free peoples with a shared history and extraordinary influence.”

Lopez Obrador took office in December after a landslide election win that represented a firm break with Mexico’s traditional political parties.
A folksy populist, he pulls no punches in going after traditional elites — but had so far cultivated cordial relations with Spain, including during a visit to Mexico City by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez earlier this year.
Lopez Obrador made the remarks during a visit to his native Tabasco state, in southern Mexico.
He was later due to visit the nearby city of Centla. On March 14, 1519, the site was the scene of one of the first battles between Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and the indigenous peoples of the land now known as Mexico.
With the help of horses, swords, guns and smallpox — all unknown in the New World at the time — Cortes led an army of less than 1,000 men to defeat the Aztec empire, the start of 300 years of Spanish rule over Mexico.