Guatemalan Volcano Survivors Still Search For The Remains Of Their Loved Ones Months after a volcanic eruption near Guatemala's capital, survivors continue to search for loved ones. It's estimated hundreds more were killed in the June event than the government has acknowledged.
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Guatemalan Volcano Survivors Still Search For The Remains Of Their Loved Ones

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Guatemalan Volcano Survivors Still Search For The Remains Of Their Loved Ones

Guatemalan Volcano Survivors Still Search For The Remains Of Their Loved Ones

Guatemalan Volcano Survivors Still Search For The Remains Of Their Loved Ones

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/646018029/646018030" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Months after a volcanic eruption near Guatemala's capital, survivors continue to search for loved ones. It's estimated hundreds more were killed in the June event than the government has acknowledged.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Survivors of Guatemala's volcanic eruption in June recently blocked the reopening of a highway that had been closed since the deadly disaster. They're protesting what they call the government's misplaced priorities. Hundreds of people may still be missing. Reporter Maria Martin says survivors are continuing to dig on their own.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA MARTIN, BYLINE: In the days following the initial eruption of Volcan Fuego, volunteer firemen and other rescue workers searched for survivors and bodies. But after 72 hours, that search was called off. After a public outcry, the Guatemalan government ordered the search back on. But soon, it was again suspended. The government cited the continuing danger of pyroclastic flows and heavy rains. Still, many survivors refuse to give up.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIGGING)

MARTIN: With roads blocked, many walk through corn and bean fields to get to their communities and dig through still-hot lava and debris. Official figures say 120 people died, and 200 are missing. But unofficial estimates put the toll much higher.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

MILDRED MORALES: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: "It's a slow agony not to know where your family is buried," says 23-year-old Mildred Morales. Mildred lost eight family members, including two small daughters she called her princesses. Her grandfather, two brothers and a cousin are still missing.

MORALES: (Through interpreter) Even though you feel they are no longer alive, sometimes, you wish you had the power to say, here they are, to find them and bury their remains in a dignified place. But we can't do that because we don't know where they are.

(SOUNDBITE OF BULLDOZER DIGGING)

MARTIN: Groups like Antigua al Rescate, Antigua to the Rescue, have banded with the villagers to raise money for bulldozers to help in the search for remains.

(SOUNDBITE OF BULLDOZER DIGGING)

MARTIN: American volunteer Amy Farrow is a former paramedic from Seattle.

AMY FARROW: Actually, 80 percent of the time, I'm the most medically trained person on scene, which is sad.

MARTIN: She found herself in Antigua when the eruption took place and has devoted much of the last three months to help villagers find remains.

FARROW: I've never had to dig for human remains next to the father or next to the daughter. That doesn't happen in the States. They're not allowed inside there. It's too emotional. It's...

MARTIN: Farrow says people were digging without proper protection, in flip-flops and without gloves or masks.

FARROW: So we created a system where they come in every morning, and they sign in with us. They get gloves. They get a mask. And this is all donation. This is all donation. The government is not supporting us in any fashion. If anything, they're fighting us.

MARTIN: She says the villagers are getting permits from the government to dig and that they found the remains of 192 bodies.

(SOUNDBITE OF BULLDOZER DIGGING)

MARTIN: In one of the more gruesome discoveries, survivors found human remains mixed in with debris disposed of in plastic bags during the highway cleanup ahead of its reopening. Angry villagers demonstrated on the road, criticizing the government for spending millions on highway reconstruction while ignoring the search for the missing. Aufermia Garcia lost 50 family members to the eruption.

AUFERMIA GARCIA: (Through interpreter) We want the government to show its face. They promised to continue the search but didn't do it. And they show no respect.

MARTIN: The government has now given survivors until September 11 to continue to search for their loved ones. For NPR News, I'm Maria Martin in Antigua, Guatemala.

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