News Column

Guatemalan Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 50

Nov. 8, 2012

The death toll in the worst earthquake to hit Guatemala in decades has risen to 50, media reports Thursday quoted emergency services as saying.

The fatalities included 16 children. About 20 people remained missing while around 150 people were reported injured.

The Wednesday quake hit hardest in the south-western departments of San Marcos and Quetzaltenango, near the border with Mexico. The quake was followed by about 30 aftershocks.

The government announced three days of mourning.

President Otto Perez Molina put Guatemala on its highest alert and travelled by helicopter to San Marcos, where 40 of the victims died.

"It is difficult to see so much tragedy and sadness," the president said.

In San Cristobal in San Marcos department, 10 members of the same family were killed when their house collapsed. In El Arenal, seven workers who were making gravel were hit by a falling wall and killed, the newspaper La Prensa Libre reported.

Numerous houses collapsed in the region, while electricity and water supplies collapsed. Mudslides blocked several streets.

The regional government building, the central police station and a prison were heavily damaged, San Marcos governor Aroldo Rivera said. Nearly 100 prison inmates had to be moved to prisons elsewhere, according to media reports.

The government mobilized about 2,000 soldiers and 500 police to help clean up disaster areas.

Molina said the quake was the worst to hit his country since 1976, when an earthquake killed 23,000 people.

Guatemala's seismological institute, Insuvimeh, said the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.2. The US Geological Survey said it measured 7.5 on the Richter scale.

Mexico's seismological service estimated the strength of the quake at 7.3.

The epicentre was around 42 kilometres under the Pacific Ocean, 56 kilometres south-west of Retalhuleu, Guatemala, and 61 kilometres south-east of Suchiate, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, the US-based agency said.

The earthquake was also felt in Mexico, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Thousands of people fled buildings in southern and central Mexico. Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said the quake was noticeable in a large part of the city. Damage was limited to cracks in some buildings, Chiapas governor Jaime Sabines said.

A tsunami alert was raised in Mexico and Nicaragua. Waves measuring 30 centimetres above normal were reported in Chiapas.

Mexico City was ravaged in 1985 by a quake that killed an estimated 10,000 people.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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