Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Killer Quakes in Guatemala

By Sue Schuurman

FEBRUARY 9, 1998: 

22 Years Ago This Week

On Feb. 4, 1976, a devastating earthquake struck Guatemala leaving 23,000 people dead, 77,000 injured and more than 1 million homeless. For the next week, the Albuquerque Journal ran steadily shrinking articles on the story as the body count grew from the original figure of 2,000 to 17,000 at week's end. But by then, less than a hundred words were devoted to the staggering Dante-esque drama in the Central American country with a total population of 6 million. One wonders whether the media's attention span (and in turn the public's) would have been measurably more empathetic had the country been less indigenous and more anglo.

"GUATEMALA CITY--The military chief of staff of the National Emergency Committee said an estimated 2,000 persons were killed in Guatemala Wednesday by a tremendous earthquake that rumbled over a 2,000-mile stretch through Central America and Mexico.

"There were no reports of heavy casualties in the other countries hit by the predawn earthquake, but severe damage and panic were reported in Honduras. Officials in the other country hit, El Salvador, reported some roads and highways cut. Minor damage was reported in southern Mexico.

"Col. Manuel Angel Ponce, the chief of staff, said the figure of 2,000 persons killed was 'conservative,' adding that 'alarming reports' were coming in from the interior of the country 15 hours after the earthquake hit at 3:04 a.m. (2:04 a.m., MST). It was recorded at 7.5 on the Richter Scale, an earthquake of major proportions.

"Hundreds of thousands poured into the streets here in panic after it hit. Guatemala City plays host to large numbers of American tourists this time of year, but there were no reports of American casulaties (sic).

"Col. Ponce said the death toll in this capital was estimated at more than 300. Other unconfirmed reports earlier said the toll here might reach 500 to 600. ...

"'The morgue is full,' said a radio broadcast in Guatemala City. 'Please don't bring any more bodies to the morgue.'

"Adobe homes and walls in the poor sections collapsed. Hundreds of thousands in this city of 1.5 million poured into the streets in panic after the earthquake hit. One resident said it felt 'like the city was dancing.'

"Thousands in this capital erected makeshift shelters from canvas, plastic covers and bedsheets, preferring these to their damaged homes as aftershocks continued throughout the day. ... "

Source: Albuquerque Journal; Feb. 5, 1976

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