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Hallsville woman in Guatemala quake

By Sarah Thomas sthomas@news-journal.com
Nov. 7, 2012 at 10 p.m.


A Hallsville woman was in Antigua, Guatemala on Wednesday morning when a 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck the area.

The earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of Guatemala about 10:30 a.m., killing at least 48 people in two states as it toppled thick adobe walls, shook huge landslides down onto highways, and sent terrified villagers streaming into the streets.

President Otto Perez Molina said at a news conference that at least 40 people died in the state of San Marcos and eight more were killed in the neighboring state of Quetzaltenango.

Damage was reported in all but one of Guatemala's 22 states.

Sara Knight, of Hallsville, has spent the past two months studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala - about 100 miles from the epicenter.

Knight was at the Christian Language Academy in a classroom with her teacher when the earthquake hit.

"A lot of people ran out into the street, and some gathered in the center of the building where there is no roof so they didn't have to worry about anything falling on them," Knight said.

The mountain village of San Marcos, some 80 miles from the epicenter, suffered much of the damage with some 30 homes collapsing in its center. Hundreds of frightened villagers were on the streets that had been cracked open by the temblor, the strongest to hit Guatemala since a deadly 1976 quake that killed 23,000.

Knight said the initial reaction from people at the school was that the quake wasn't going to be a major one because smaller tremors are common in the area.

"No one thought it was going to be that big of a deal," she said. "This was my first earthquake. I didn't have a lot of fear; but I was nervous, and I wondered if it was going to get any stronger."

The quake did get stronger, rattling the windows in the building where Knight took shelter under the open-air roof.

"You could see the windows shaking," she said. "We were on the second floor so we could see the building moving and shaking."

More than 300 people, including firemen, policemen and villagers, worked at a sand extraction site to rescue seven people reportedly buried alive, including a 6-year-old boy who had accompanied his grandfather to work.

The quake, about 20 miles deep, shook buildings as far away as Mexico City, 600 miles to the northwest, and El Salvador, according to reports from the Associated Press.

More than 2,000 soldiers were deployed from a base in San Marcos to help with disaster relief.

Perez said 150 people had been evacuated by air from the San Marcos area, where 91 inmates, including five women, were huddled to one side of the adobe makeshift jail that had floor-to-ceiling cracks and threatened to collapse. Police told the prisoners they were to be moved.

"Everyone is just wondering about what is going to happen next," Knight said. "We are just wondering, 'Are there going to any more earthquakes or aftershocks?' "

<em>The Associated Press contributed to this report.</em>

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