Kamloops residents with close ties to Guatemalan villages were heartbroken to hear of the massive earthquake off the country’s Pacific coast Wednesday morning.
Dozens of people have died and more than 100 more are missing after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit deep under the Pacific Ocean.
The quake, about 30 kilometres deep, was centred about 25 kilometres off the coastal town of Champerico and about 160 kilometres southwest of Guatemala City, shaking buildings as far away as Mexico City and El Salvador.
Sahali secondary school teacher Joanne Simpson has taken two groups of students to the country for charitable missions, most recently in March to the village of San Miguel Duenas about five hours away from Champerico.
“We remember clearly the vulnerability of the homes and communities, especially in the hills,” she said. “It wouldn't take much for them to be destroyed completely.”
The mountain village of San Marcos, some 130 kilometres from the epicentre, suffered much of the damage with about 30 homes collapsing in its centre.
More than 300 people, including firemen, police officers and villagers, worked at a sand extraction site to rescue seven people reported buried alive, including a six-year-old boy who had accompanied his grandfather to work.
“I want to see Giovanni, I want to see Giovanni,” the boy’s mother, Francisca Ramirez frantically cried. “He’s not dead. Get him out.”
The head of Developing World Connections in Kamloops made contact with his organization’s partner in Guatemala, U.S.-based NGO Open Windows Foundation, and was relieved to hear their home base of Antigua was undamaged.
“They’re about six or seven hours away from Champerico,” said Wayne McRann. “People were on the streets and they had felt the quake. But there was no problem at our host partners’ community itself.”
The Associated Press reported that frightened Guatemalans villagers poured out onto streets cracked open by the quake with memories of a devastating 36-year-old event.
“Villagers (in the host partners’ community) do have a lot of fear because Antigua was destroyed in 1976 from a big earthquake,” said McRann.
Wednesday’s tremor was the strongest to hit Guatemala since that quake killed 23,000.
Simpson said she has faith that the country’s people will overcome this tragedy as they have always done.
“The people there are remarkably resilient,” she said. “After the volcano erupted two years ago very close to where we stayed, they were able to pull together and eventually rebuild their homes.”
Nicaragua’s disaster management agency said it had issued a local tsunami alert, but there were no immediate reports of a tidal wave on the country’s Pacific coast.
El Salvador’s Civil Protection agency said officials were evacuating some coastal communities as a precautionary measure.