SAN MIGUEL LOS LOTES, Guatemala – San Miguel Los Lotes is witnessing a race against time. Survivors of that small village on the slopes of Guatemala’s dangerous Volcano of Fire are hurriedly working to recover the remains of their loved ones following the eruption on June 3, 2018, which left 202 dead and 229, and before another can occur.
The road to get there is still the same, but it’s not like it was. Some stretches of the highway between the inactive Water Volcano near the colonial city of Antigua and the colossal Volcano of Fire now run alongside the original, and there are prefabricated bridges over the ditches created by the molten pyroclastic material.
The lava flow dragging rocks and trees with it still covers most of the village that is now desolate, except for the main street and sections where the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) is at work, and where government trucks drive up and excavating machines dig all day.
The excavators work around the place where survivors attempt to rescue the last possible bones of family members or of their neighbors, since the FAFG launched last August the search for those lying here beneath the ground. The project is scheduled to end its dig next Dec. 16.
Workers have less than a month to finish the job that begins a 6 o’clock in the morning and ends at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, before the sun goes down, seven day a week. This Friday they have recovered 17 skeletons.
With a shovel in his hand, Victor Cancinos Arenales, 82, told Efe that he survived the eruption because he went to round up livestock that had escaped the corral.
He ran to shut the gate, but the animals had gone crazy at the “black and red substance that poured from the crater” into the village and killed 202 people and buried 229 who have not yet been found.
Victor told Efe that he buried four family members and the son-in-law of his son. Since the dig got underway last August, he has recovered their remains and now, from sunrise to sunset, he helps his neighbors have the same chance he did: to be able to bury their loved ones with dignity.
Among the scores of survivors helping to find the remains is Maria Vasquez Gonzalez, 66. She told Efe she is “very sad because I need my family. I lost my 10 grandchildren, my two daughters and my son-in-law. I come to distract myself, since they gave us some little jobs to do” and that will help.
Her daughter and a grandson survived, but she is not happy that the government hasn’t given any money to women left “alone,” since they are now without the husband who earned the money to live on, though she acknowledged that their house built by the government “is a good thing.”
Now she brings lunch for the rescuers, her own neighbors, with whom she had lived for decades before June 3, 2018, with the volcano rising behind them.
That rumbling, the ashes constantly falling, were an ordinary part of life. “We trusted the volcano,” she said.