The quake, which hit at 10:35 am (local time) in the midst of the work day, caused terror over an unusually wide area, with damage reported in all but one of Guatemala's 22 states and shaking felt as far away as Mexico City, 600 miles to the northwest. San Marcos, where more than 30 homes collapsed, bore the brunt of the temblor's fury.
More than 300 people, including firefighters, policemen and villagers, tried to dig through a half ton of sand at a quarry in the commercial centre of the town in a desperate attempt to rescue seven people believed buried alive. Among those under the sand was a 6-year-old boy who had accompanied his grandfather to work.
"I want to see Giovanni! I want to see Giovanni!" the boy's mother, 42-year-old Francisca Ramirez, frantically cried. "He's not dead. Get him out." She said the boy's father had emigrated to the US and there was no way to reach him. President Otto Perez Molina flew to San Marcos to view the damage. He said the death toll stood at 39, most of it in this lush mountainous region of 50,000 indigenous farmers and ranchers, many belonging to the Mam ethnic group.