SAN MARCOS, Guatemala — The death toll in the worst Guatemala earthquake since 1976 rose Thursday to 52 people, with many of the 22 still missing expected to be among the dead, according to President Otto Perez Molina.
Perez said the powerful 7.4-magnitude quake that hit Wednesday morning off the Pacific coast affected as many as 1.2 million people as it shook nearly the entire country. He said a little more than 700 people were in shelters, with most opting to stay with family or friends.
"They have no drinking water, no electricity, no communication and are in danger of experiencing more aftershocks," Perez told a news conference. The president said there had been 70 aftershocks in the first 24 hours after the quake, some as strong as magnitude 4.9.
Damaged homes will be among the biggest problems the country will face in the coming days, Perez added.
Guatemalans fearing aftershocks huddled in the streets of the mountain town of San Marcos, the most affected area, where at least 40 people died. Others crowded inside its hospital, the only building left with electricity.
More than 90 rescue workers continued to dig with backhoes at a half-ton mound of sand at a quarry trying to rescue seven people.
"We started rescue work very early," said Julio Cesar Fuentes of the municipal fire department. "The objective is our hope to find people who were buried."
But they uncovered only one more body, that of one of the quarry workers. The worker's son was called to identify him. When he climbed into the sand pit and recognized the clothing, the man collapsed onto the shoulders of firefighters, crying: "Papa, Papa, Papa."
He and his father were not identified to the news media because other relatives had not been notified of the death.
Residents venturing outside into the morning cold found the city paralyzed and businesses closed.