Dangerous conditions halt search for volcano victims

ESCUINTLA, Guatemala — Six children inured by the devastating volcanic eruption in Guatemala arrived in Texas on Thursday morning to receive treatment for serious burns, as the recovery effort around the volcano was halted due to dangerous conditions. A U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane carrying the children landed overnight in Galveston.

The patients were immediately transported to Shriners Hospital for Children, which specializes in serious burns, for treatment.

The devastating eruption on Sunday is blamed for almost 100 deaths, and about 200 others were still missing on Thursday, but efforts to locate and dig out the victims were put on hold due to dangerous conditions.

CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez is in Escuintla, and has watched as exhausted crews continued the grim work of searching for victims on Wednesday — but virtually all hope of finding survivors was lost.

Authorities had warned of the potential for even more toxic lava flows and put up roadblocks to keep people away. On Thursday morning, the Guatemalan government called off the search effort, saying ongoing rains combined with still-scorching ash and toxic gases on the ground made it too risky for crews to work in the beleaguered Escuintla region.

While residents cast a wary eye to the danger looming at the top of the Volcano of Fire, many were still refusing to leave.

After the volcano’s biggest eruption in four decades, help had begun to arrive in the areas cut off by the lava flows, but in the village of San Miguel Los Lotes — buried under as much as 10 feet of ash — the chances of finding anyone alive were slowly disappearing.

Bojorquez went on Wednesday with a rescue worker to part of the village that hadn’t yet been reached. The crews knew they were looking for bodies. There was no real sense that there could be any survivors left.

CBS News cameras were there as workers pulled lifeless bodies from the wreckage.

Satellite images show a striking difference in the same town just four months ago. Now much of it is destroyed, and what remains is covered in mud, ash, and rubble.

Before the recovery effort was halted on Thursday — 72 hours after the disaster, the amount of time officials said it was likely people could survive — it was painstaking work. Bojorquez watched as they tried to peel back the layers of a tin roof from a home that was almost submerged by the toxic flow.

Outside the disaster area, residents have lined up for hours to receive supplies, some of them having spent days without food and even water, with lava flows contaminating many local supplies.

In Esquintla, the lava flows were within striking distance, but still many refused to abide by mandatory evacuation orders.

One man told Bojorquez he was afraid looters would ransack his home if he left.

With the threat of more eruptions, evacuation orders had quadrupled in number by early Thursday to include more than 12,000 people. In the coming days, more aid from the United States is expected to arrive.

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