Rescue workers are continuing their search for survivors of the catastrophic Fuego volcano eruptions in southwest Guatemala as the death toll climbs to least 99 people, with more than 200 still missing, according to disaster and forensic agency Inacif.
The Volcan de Fuego, or 'Volcano of Fire,' first ruptured on Sunday, sending lava and mushroom clouds of ash several kilometers into the sky. Superheated pyroclastic flows immediately engulfed surrounding towns and took the lives of unsuspecting rural residents.
The volcano exploded again on Monday and Tuesday, spewing more hot gas and molten rock into the atmosphere and impeding the work of first responders searching for survivors.
By Wednesday, still-smoldering ash and volcanic rock blanketed the hamlet of San Miguel Los Lotes. All that's left are the rooves of a few homes poking through the dust.
"We can only work in places where we can stand on the rooves of houses... because the ash is very hot," 25-year-old rescuer Diego Lorenzana told Reuters.
"There are places where you stick the pickaxe or rod in and we see a lot of smoke coming out and fire and it's impossible to keep digging because we could die."
Elsewhere, rescuers plunged metal rods into the quickly hardening ash atop what was previously a roadway in the desperate search for trapped vehicles, a video by local TV station Televisiete showed.
The devastation was widespread and the damage to bodies is slowing the identification process. Cecilio Chacaj, a spokesman for the municipal firefighters department, said the bodies of another nine victims were recovered on Wednesday.
Guatemala's national disaster management agency, Conred, said 1.7 million people have been affected by the volcanic eruption, Fuego’s biggest in four decades.
President Jimmy Morales called for a state of emergency in the country's southwest departments, from where at least 12,000 people have been evacuated.
Honduras, Paraguay and the EU have all expressed solidarity with the people of Guatemala. Seven firefighters from the central Mexican state of Queretaro departed for Guatemala on Monday to assist in the recovery efforts.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it has released more than US$253,446 from its global emergency fund to support frontline emergency efforts.