18 of her relatives are missing or dead after Guatemala’s Fuego eruption

Posted at 9:12 PM, Jun 07, 2018

Rescue workers remove layers of ash from Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, on Wednesday, June 6 in El Rodeo, Guatemala

(CNN) – Her eyes brimming with tears, Teresa de Jesus Barillas recites the names of her 18 relatives who are missing or dead days after the Fuego volcano erupted in Guatemala, leaving nearly 100 people dead and scores more missing.

Barillas, a 52-year-old grandmother, breaks down as she names her father, her five siblings, their spouses, their children and her granddaughter. They were all in San Miguel Los Lotes when volcanic ash and rock overtook the small town.

Amid an apocalyptic scene, some touches of everyday life remain.

Clothes hang from clotheslines; chickens squawk in their cages as piles of ash threaten to swallow homes. Burned out cars, packed with the few possessions their owners could grab, litter the side of the road, their tires reduced to puddles of melted rubber and steel.

Asked if she believed she was going to die, Barillas said, “Yes.”

“I thought my children were going to lose me, as I couldn’t run but my children kept saying, ‘Mom, come on, run! Come on! Let’s go,’ but I just couldn’t run,” Barillas told CNN.

There was no warning that the volcano was going to explode on that Sunday afternoon until a wall of lava, ash and toxic gases came bearing down on the communities that dot the mountainside.

Miraculously, she and some of her family managed to escape. But Teresa is now wracked with guilt because she survived, while others did not.

Related: Rescuers prepared to flee at any time as Guatemala volcano smolders

Head of disaster agency told to resign

Since Fuego erupted Sunday, 109 people have been declared dead, according to Guatemala’s Institute of Forensic Sciences.

As the death toll rises, the head of Guatemala’s disaster management agency is facing calls to step down.

Sergio Cabañas, head of the agency, CONRED, met Thursday with leaders with the National Union for Hope, an opposition party dubbed UNE. In the meeting, UNE Congressman Mario Taracena blamed Cabañas for the high death toll and said he should resign and face “penal consequences” for failing to respond to eruption warnings in a timely manner.

“I’m telling you this as a human being: Quit,” Taracena said, according to a video posted on Taracena’s Twitter account. “You are not someone who is capable for this job.”

Taracena pointed out that early reports suggested Fuego could unleash pyroclastic flows — a dangerous mix of ash, rock and gas. The fast-moving flows are impossible to outrun.

“My good man,” Taracena said, “you need to have reacted immediately to that.”

Cabañas and his team claimed there wasn’t sufficient information to issue an evacuation warning based on bulletins sent early Sunday by Guatemala’s National Seismological Volcanic and Meteorological Institute.

On Thursday, the office of Guatemala’s attorney general and the head of the Public Ministry said they would launch an investigation into the tragedy to find out if “the necessary protocols were established to make prudent and timely decisions” in the manner of response to the volcano’s eruption.

Ovidio García Suárez, a resident of El Rodeo, survived the Fuego’s eruption, but his wife is missing.

Agency suspends rescue operations

CONRED on Thursday suspended search and rescue operations in the disaster zone, even as 192 people remain missing, the agency said in a statement.

Rescue teams’ safety was at issue amid concerns over Fuego’s continued activity, as well as the potential for volcanic mudflows, known as lahars, that could form as rain moves into the area, it said. Searches would resume if conditions change.

Fuego was still intermittently spewing smoke into the air on Thursday morning.

Ovidio García Suárez of San Miguel Los Lotes is still searching for his loved ones. He’s lived in the shadow of the volcano for 64 years but had never seen anything like this.

García was away from his home when his daughter called him as Fuego exploded. “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 said. “What’s the government going to do?”

Texas hospital treating Guatemalan children

Twelve people severely injured in the eruption will receive medical treatment in the United States and Mexico, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said.

Shriners Hospital in Galveston, Texas, is treating six children who suffered severe burns, spokesman Mel Bower told CNN. They arrived early Thursday and were taken to the hospital’s pediatric burn center.

The children were burned by ash, said Dr. Steven Wolf, the hospital’s chief of staff, during a Thursday news conference.

“Getting caught in an ash cloud, then the particles from the ash then cause a contact burn,” Wolf said.

The children’s injuries are “life-threatening,” and the hospital will provide surgery, treatment, rehabilitation and psychological support, Bower said Thursday during a news conference.

They were chosen for treatment based on the severity of their injuries and their potential for recovery, Wolf said, adding that the hospital has the resources to treat more children with severe injuries.

Hospital officials would not share the full extent of the children’s injuries, nor their ages, citing medical confidentiality.

Shriners personnel also were deployed Monday to Guatemala, where they have been treating the injured, officials said.

Recovery could take at least a year

Many of those affected by the volcano are just beginning their roads to recovery.

“We should not underestimate the scale of this disaster,” said Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Critical, emergency needs are still enormous, and affected communities will need sustained and long-term support.”

After visiting the disaster area, Rocca said in a statement that recovery “will take at least a year.”

“These people lost everything — homes, livelihoods and tragically, loved ones,” he said.

Rocca also pointed out that ash expelled by Fuego has fallen all over the country, potentially affecting agriculture.

“The economic impact of this is unclear,” he said. “We hope it will not mean a secondary disaster.”