Ovidio García Suárez was born and raised in the shadow of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano. He has lived through plenty of volcanic activity in his 64 years, he says – but nothing like this.
On Sunday, Fuego unleashed a fast-moving mix of ash, rock and volcanic gases that virtually swallowed San Miguel Los Lotes, the neighborhood in El Rodeo where García lives, transforming the landscape into a gray wasteland.
Homes are buried in ash, some of it still hot to the touch. Leaden clothes hang on clotheslines. An eery silence hangs in the air, apart from the presence of chickens that somehow managed to survive the explosion.
Volcanic rocks the size of baseballs and larger litter the ground. Melted car tires lay in puddles of rubber and twisted steel.
At least 99 have died from Fuego’s fury, and 192 are missing – including García’s wife.
García was away from his home when Fuego exploded and his daughter called him. “Mom disappeared,” she told him. His son’s wife was in the home, too, and they don’t know where she is, either. Their home was destroyed.
“Now there is nothing,” he says. “What’s the government going to do?”
‘It’s dangerous, but we go anyway’
At least 192 people are missing, Guatemala’s disaster relief agency said, and rescuers face hazardous conditions as they navigate hot, rocky debris. And Fuego might not be done yet. It expelled more rock and gas Tuesday, sending ash over 16,000 feet into the sky and temporarily halting search operations.
More pyroclastic flow – the name for the nasty mix of ash, rock and volcanic gases – is possible in coming days, the country’s disaster relief agency said.
Despite the circumstances, firefighter Rigoberto Ramirez remained hopeful that more survivors will be found in El Rodeo. Near El Rodeo, searchers found signs of rushed attempts at flight. A red truck full of possessions, including a refrigerator, rests abandoned, its tires melted to the ground.
Smoke rose from the volcano Wednesday morning, and Ramirez’s colleagues parked their vehicles facing downhill in case Fuego erupted again and they had to make a quick exit.
“There’s hope,” he said. “But it’s dangerous for us to go up there. Water has been trapped under the ash and vapors could come out any time.”
“It’s dangerous, but we go anyway.”
‘We were covered in ashes’
The eruption of Volcan de Fuego, which means fire volcano, was visible from space; satellite footage showed a massive, dark gray ash cloud. More than 12,000 people have been evacuated.
Near San Miguel Los Lotes, Miriam Juarez and her husband, Jose Amigar, waited Wednesday near a cordoned area, hoping authorities would let them pass so they could retrieve some belongings.
They said they ran Sunday after one of their children urged them to flee. By the time they reached a shelter in the city of Escuintla, “we were covered in ashes,” Juarez said.
“It was this dark smoke, very dark and it just got bigger,” Juarez recalled.
The couple is staying with their four children at the shelter. Frustration was building Wednesday as officials still wouldn’t let the couple go near their home of more than 25 years.
“It’s our house … and they won’t let us up there,” Amigar said, with tears in his eyes. “They say it’s for our safety, but they never cared when we lived there.”
Others anxiously await news of their loved ones. Eva Ascón – from Guatemala City, some 25 miles away the volcano – seemed to accept that her relatives who lived near the eruption did not survive.
Ascón told reporters Tuesday she would ask rescue workers to “give us time to identify the bodies in the morgue; don’t take them away as unidentified.”
“Even if there are only small bones of my people, I want them,” she said. “I don’t have even one member of my family.”
Injured children to be treated in the US
Twelve people severely wounded since the eruption will receive medical attention in the United States and Mexico, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said.
Six children will be treated for severe burns at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston, Texas, the hospital said.
The children will fly to Texas aboard a US Air Force plane by late Wednesday, Guatemalan and hospital officials said.
An emergency medical team from the hospital has been treating the injured on the ground after being deployed Monday to Guatemala, it said.
Six other patients will be transferred to Mexico, Morales said.
CNN’s Patrick Oppmann, Natalie Gallón and Jose Armijo reported from El Rodeo, Guatemala, while Emanuella Grinberg, Jason Hanna and Nicole Chavez reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Spencer Feingold and Flora Charner and CNN en Español’s Juliana Gonzalez contributed to this report.