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Villagers mourn family after quake

The 10 members of the Vasquez family were found together under the rubble of the rock quarry that had been their livelihood, some in a desperate final embrace, others clinging to the faintest of dying pulses.

As Guatemala tried to recover Thursday from a 7.4-magnitude quake, the country mourned a disaster that killed at least 52 people; left thousands of others without homes, electricity or water; and emotionally devastated one small town by wiping out almost an entire family seeing the first signs of success in a tireless effort to claw itself out of poverty.

Neighbours filed past 10 wooden caskets lined up in two rows in the Vasquez living room, remembering a family reduced to a single survivor, the eldest son about to graduate with an accounting degree.

Justo Vasquez, a man known for his ferocious work ethic and dedication to his seven children, was with nearly all his closest relations Wednesday at a local quarry hacking out a white rock that is pulverized to make cinder blocks for construction.

When the quake struck, thousands of pounds of earth calved off from the wall above the pit, burying the 44-year-old and almost everyone he loved: his wife, Ofelia Gomez, 43; their daughters Daisy, 14, Gisely, 8, and Merly, 6; and their sons Aldiner, 12, Delbis, 5, and Dibel, 3. Their nephews Ulises and Aldo Vasquez, both 12, also died.

Only the oldest son, Ivan, 19, survived. He had stayed in the house when the rest of his family went to the quarry, taking care of some last-minute details to receive his accounting degree, the first in his family to have a professional career. His father had been saving for a party to celebrate his Nov. 23 graduation.

"He died working," said Antonia Lopez, a sister-in-law of the father, Justo Vasquez. "He was fighting for his kids."

Dozens of villagers in the humble town of San Cristobal Cucho ran to help dig the family after Guatemala's biggest quake in 36 years. When they uncovered some of the children, one body still warm, two with pulses, they were in the arms of their father, who had tried to shield them.

"We have never seen a tragedy like this. The whole town is sad," said brother Romulo Vasquez, whose 12-year old son, Ulises, also died at the quarry.

The death toll was expected to rise as 22 people remained missing, President Otto Perez Molina said at a news conference. Forty people were killed in San Marcos state, where San Cristobal Cucho is, 11 died in the neighbouring state of Quetzaltenango and one was killed in Solola state, also in the western part of the country.

The Canadian Press


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