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Latin America

18 members of the same family killed in eruption of Fuego volcano in Guatemala

"I don't feel I can stand up, I have never felt such pain in my heart," said a member of the Pamal family after the eruption destroyed an entire community in Escuintla, adjacent to the volcano. Rescue teams are still searching for survivors.
5 Jun 2018 – 11:01 AM EDT
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SAN MIGUEL LOS LOTES, Guatemala- It was lunch time and the members of the Pamal family were gathered at home as usual for a Sunday meal together on Sunday.

While the others had lunch, one of the family, evangelical pastor Camilo Galicia Pamal, stpped out with his wife for a church service.

At 2pm, a loud noise prompted families to look outside. The nearby Fuego volcano had erupted. But it happened so fast that not all the neighbors were able to flee their homes in time as a powerful stream of ash, sand and mud came pouring down the slopes of the volcano, burying dozens of houses, many built of flimsy wood and sheet metal.

Among those who perished; 18 members of the Pamal family. The smallest victim was six years old and the oldest was 70. So too, Pastor Camilo and those attending the church service.

Looking up at the disaster zone, all that is visible are destroyed houses and burned vehicles covered in layers of ash. The community of San Miguel Los Lotes, about 30 miles southwest of the capital, Guatemala City, was practically erased from the map.

Children's clothes and shoes litter the Dantesque scene, strewn amongst overturned electrical appliances.

The Fuego volcano has been active for years and the inhabitants close by had learned to live with it, but this time the eruption spewed lava, large stones and sand that fell directly over the 45-year-old community.

Visibly fatigued Guatemalan emergency workers have been joined by rescuers from several countries, including El Salvador and Mexico.

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Video: Así fue la erupción del Volcán de Fuego en Guatemala

In the morgue

The tragedy left at least 69 dead in the areas surrounding the volcano. At a provisional morgue in Escuintla families seek information, while staff of the National Institute of Forensic Sciences (INACIF), work on identifying corpses, some burned almost beyond recognition.

Some relatives of the missing have given blood to carry out DNA tests.

Marco Galicia Pamal came to the morgue to ask about his brother only to be told that he was among the 50 victims identified in San Miguel Los Lotes, where another 17 relatives died.

"I came here to find out that almost my whole family died. I don't feel I can stand up. I had never felt such pain in my heart, "he told Univision News.

The victims include five of his children and four grandchildren, as well as his brother, Pastor Camilo and his wife.

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Another brother, Fabian Galicia Pamal, also lives in the area where the tragedy occurred, but he was able to escape and take shelter.

"I was at home with my children and my grandchildren. I told them: 'Let's get out because this is bad and only take what is you need. We saw a cloud of ash already over the houses. When we looked at each other, we were all filthy, but we managed to get to safety," he said through tears.

Irma Pamal, the pastor's daughter, was also at the morgue. She lost not only her father, but also five brothers and several other relatives. She said other brothers who live in the United States would be arriving in Guatemala in the next few hours.

The majority of the family work as farmers, bricklayers and truck drivers.

Local authorities and neighbors have offered to help with the funerals.

The government declared three days of mourning and reports more than 2,000 people in shelters, 3,200 evacuees from the areas surrounding the volcano and more than one million people affected in the departments of Escuintla, Sacatepéquez and Chimaltenango.

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