Rescuers have suspended search and recovery efforts at villages devastated by the eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, leaving people with missing loved ones distraught and prompting some to take up the risky work themselves with rudimentary tools.
CONRED, the national disaster agency, said weather conditions and still-hot volcanic material were making it dangerous for rescuers.
It also noted that 72 hours had passed since Sunday’s eruption. That is the window beyond which officials earlier said it would be extremely unlikely to find any survivors amid the ash, mud and other debris that buried homes up to their rooftops.
“It rained very hard yesterday … The soil is unstable,” said Pablo Castillo, a national police spokesman.
Authorities have admitted that a communication breakdown between CONRED and volcanologists in Guatemala delayed evacuations from the surrounding area.
Guatemalan prosecutors said on Thursday they would launch an investigation into whether emergency protocols were followed properly.
Since the eruption, downpours and more volcanic activity had been hindering searches, but when teams have been able to work in the hardest-hit areas, the death toll has continued to rise. It was officially at 109 with nearly 200 more believed to be missing.