SAN CRISTOBAL CUCHO, Guatemala -- The 10 members of the Vasquez family were found together under the rubble of the rock quarry that had been their livelihood, some in a desperate final embrace, others clinging to the faintest of dying pulses.
As Guatemalans sought yesterday to pick up the pieces after Wednesday's 7.4-magnitude earthquake, one family's tragic story came to symbolize the horror of a disaster that killed 52 people and left thousands of others huddling in the cold shadows of cracked adobe buildings, most without electricity or water.
Neighbors came to pay their respects. They filed past 10 wooden coffins in the Vasquez family living room, and contemplated the unspeakable future that awaits the family's only surviving son. Justo Vasquez, his wife, Ofelia Gomez, six children and two nephews died.
Only the eldest son, Ivan, 19, survived. He had stayed in the house when the rest of his family went to the quarry, taking care of last-minute details for his accounting degree -- the first in his family to have a professional career. His father had been saving for a party to celebrate his Nov. 23 graduation.
"He died working," sister-in-law Antonia Lopez said. "He was fighting for his kids."
Hundreds of villagers in the humble town of San Cristobal Cucho ran to dig the family out after Guatemala's biggest quake in 36 years. When they uncovered some of the children, one body still warm, two with pulses, they were in the arms of their father, who had tried to shield them from a falling mountain.
The death toll was expected to rise as 22 people remained missing, President Otto Perez Molina told a news conference.
Perez said the powerful quake, felt as far as Mexico City, 600 miles away, affected as many as 1.2 million Guatemalans. More than 700 people were in shelters, with most opting to stay with family or friends, he added.
"They have no drinking water, no electricity, no communication and are in danger of experiencing more aftershocks," Perez said. There had been 70 aftershocks in the first 24 hours after the quake, some as strong as magnitude 5.1, he said.