Lone woman digs for family lost under
Guatemalan volcanic rubble
Send a link to a friend
[June 23, 2018]
By Carlos Jasso and Sofia Menchu
SAN MIGUEL LOS LOTES, Guatemala (Reuters) -
Eleven days after the Fuego volcano rained down on the Guatemalan
village of San Miguel Los Lotes, a backhoe ripped the roof off one of
the homes buried by ash, revealing a corpse in the still-hot dust.
"It's my sister Lola," said Eufemia Garcia Ixpata, a 48-year-old fruit
vendor who lost dozens of family members in the eruption.
Mexican volunteer rescue workers grabbed their shovels and rushed in to
recover the body from the rubble and dust.
Garcia ran to find a sheet of paper and a marker to prepare a name tag
before the body was taken to a grade school that was being used as a
She had lost her family and her home, and had been sleeping in a school
room with other survivors. Reuters photographer Carlos Jasso accompanied
her for seven days.
Getting up at 5 a.m., she jumped out of a narrow blue folding bed, and
washed one of only two changes of clothing that she had left before
She gathered her hair into a ponytail and set out to look for her lost
and buried family. Fito, her boyfriend of eight years, was her only
"You see, last Sunday, we found remains of my mom. We found one of the
children yesterday. So, we are getting results," she said.
At her mother's house, she had found only a tooth and a pair of bones.
Every day, she made her way up the mountain slope to where Los Lotes
used to be, waiting for one of the bulldozers tasked with clearing the
area to arrive.
She pointed down at the strange, new ground where half of a tree peeked
"This was my house," Garcia said as she walked across the gray desert,
pointing out where her mother used to live, and where the homes of her
sisters and in-laws had stood. Everything was buried.
And still, the volcano smoldered. An alarm sounded, warning of another
potential wave of hot ash, lava fragments, and gases exploding from the
volcano and rolling down the mountain, swallowing everything in its
Whenever those alarms suspend the search for more bodies, Garcia returns
to the morgue or checks the hospitals. The same routine, every day. She
eats as an afterthought, or when an aid worker shoves a bowl of food in
front of her.
Guatemalan rescue workers had only searched during the first three days
after the tragedy, calling off efforts as the volcano continued to
rumble and hot vapors melted the soles of their shoes.
[to top of second column]
Eufemia Garcia, 48, who lost 50 members of her family during the
eruption of the Fuego volcano, prays with members of the evangelical
church while searching for her family in San Miguel Los Lotes in
Escuintla, Guatemala, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
That was when Garcia decided to search on her own. She had no
goggles to protect her eyes, rarely wore a mask on her face, and
walked impatiently in the rubble, in sandals.
"The volcano has calmed down. It is nothing to worry about, because
everything that it had to blow has already been blown out. So now,
with the permission of our Lord and the volcano, we are working,"
Fuego had slept for 40 years, but on Sunday, June 3, it ejected tons
of earth, ash and colossal stones that buried hundreds of homes and
left at least 112 people dead.
In the early days after the eruption, Garcia thought she had lost
all her children.
However, as the days passed, three of her six children, 31, 22 and
19 years old, plus a granddaughter, appeared at different shelters.
Four of her nine brothers that she feared were dead also turned up
alive. Some called her on the phone when they found out that she was
looking for them, while she found others in hospitals.
But the bodies of three of her children remained missing.
"I will finish my search when I find them," she said, drying her
During the seven days that Reuters accompanied Garcia, she had found
one body in the house of her former father-in-law, two at her
sister's house, and the partial remains at her motherís home.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)
[© 2018 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2018 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Thompson Reuters is solely responsible for this content.