Guatemala rescuers find 8 more bodies, raising volcano deaths to 83

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Guatemala volcano victims
The death toll from Guatemala's violent volcano eruptions has risen to at least 83 after rescuers reported the discovery of eight more bodies.PIX: Esteban Biba/EFE via ZUMA Press/dpa

GUATEMALA CITY – The death toll from Guatemala’s violent volcano eruptions has risen to at least 83 after rescuers reported the discovery of eight more bodies.

The authorities had previously given the death toll as 75.

Rescuers said they had discovered eight more bodies including four found in the rubble of a house and human remains discovered in a gully through which burning hot gas and volcanic matter had passed.

The newspaper Prensa Libre additionally reported that an 88-year-old man, who had suffered severe burns, had died. If the report is confirmed, that would bring the death toll to 84.

Concepcion Hernandez, who had burns on half of his body, died in hospital after suffering a kidney failure, the paper reported.

Hernandez, who had been pictured covered with dust sitting desolately on the side of a destroyed road, was one of the best-known victims of the tragedy.

The number of injured people is given as 44 and nearly 200 others remain missing. About 12,000 people have been evacuated, according to official figures.

Rescuers were searching for more victims around the 3,763-metre Fuego volcano, situated about 70 kilometres south-west of Guatemala City.

The army said it was assisting rescuers and bringing survivors foodstuffs by air and over land.

Houses, streets and trees were coloured grey in the area where rescuers have over the span of several days unearthed the ash-covered bodies of people who burned to death or died after inhaling poisonous gases.

Twenty bodies have been identified, according to the forensic institute INACIF. They include children who were 17, 14, 6 and 3 years old.

Eddy Sanchez, director of the National Institute of Seismology, described the eruptive activity as the strongest in years. The flows of ash, gas, rock and lava could reach temperatures of up to 400 degrees celsius, he warned.

The volcano had lost a lot energy, Sanchez said, but “weaker explosions can release flows of hot gases that can go down … and cause victims.”

The disaster management agency CONRED tweeted that volcanic “activity continues” and that it did not exclude “a new downflow of pyroclastic material … in the coming hours or days.”

Volcan de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, first erupted on Sunday, spewing fast-flowing molten lava and hot ash that sent residents fleeing for their lives.

On Tuesday, a new explosion unleashed lava on its southern flank, forcing rescuers to temporarily suspend the search for victims.

CONRED meanwhile came under criticism from experts who accused it of having taken too long to evacuate areas at risk. It ignored three warnings that the volcano was about to erupt, according to experts quoted by the daily El Periodico.

The US Air Force later said it will transport six injured children to the United States for medical treatment.

A team of aeromedical evacuation, pediatric intensive care and burn-victim treatment specialists will accompany the children and their guardians to a hospital in Galveston, Texas, according to the statement. -dpa

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