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'I could've saved her, but it hurt too much.' Clovis group helps Guatemala volcano survivors

The body of 70-year-old Juan Toma Lopez killed by Guatemala's Volcano of Fire eruption is buried June 18, 2018.
The body of 70-year-old Juan Toma Lopez killed by Guatemala's Volcano of Fire eruption is buried June 18, 2018.

Orphaned children, families without homes, and a need for more food and medical care is what one Clovis nonprofit is now witnessing in Guatemala in the wake of the Volcano of Fire's eruption two weeks ago.

"So many people lost everything," said Melissa Coronado of the Miguel Vargas Association. "Not only did their families die, they lost houses, material goods, crops, because of the ash."

One of the most heartbreaking stories came from a 16-year-old girl named Fidelia, who severely burned her hand trying to rescue a 3-year-old neighbor girl as lava rushed toward them.

"They both started running away from the flow but it reached them and completely covered the 3-year-old," Coronado said, "and Fidelia had to let go of her and the lava took the little girl away and she died."

She told Coronado, "I could've saved her, but it hurt too much."

There are 110 confirmed deaths from the June 3 volcano eruption, and 197 people are listed as missing, the Associated Press reported. Guatemalan officials announced Sunday the country suspended its search for people buried by the eruption.

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Eufemia Garcia cries near her house in San Miguel Los Lotes, Guatemala, where she lost more than 20 relatives who disappeared after the Volcano of Fire eruption. AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

To help, the Miguel Vargas Association collected $7,000 from more than 170 donors. A small group from the Clovis-based nonprofit arrived in Guatemala last week and will stay through Wednesday. Donations can be made online at miguelvargasassociation.org.

They purchased supplies for affected families and volunteer firefighters.

Families received donations of food, medicine, clothes, hygiene products, school supplies, bedding, blankets and toys. Firefighters received fire-proof gloves, goggles, boots and breathing masks.

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A photo showing a severe burn caused by the eruption of Guatemala's Volcano of Fire. Miguel Vargas Association/MelissaJPhotography Special to The Bee

A special hospital bed was also purchased for burn victims that will help keep wounds cleaner and more free from infection.

The relief trip is personal for the family-run humanitarian association, founded in 2015 by dentist Hugo Coronado, who emigrated from Guatemala in 2001.

His daughter, Melissa Coronado, said no one in her extended family was injured by the eruption. But even for families not directly affected, she stressed the impacts on the country are far-reaching and immense. Many Guatemalans were already struggling to provide basic necessities for their families before the national disaster.

The volcano near Guatemala City is one of Central America's most-active. As of Sunday, it continued to rumble, shooting ash nearly three miles into the sky while lava pooled around the crater.

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Elmer Vazquez stands amid volcanic ash and dust as he searches for the remains of his wife and five children who were killed by the Volcano of Fire at his home buried in volcanic ash in San Miguel Los Lotes, Guatemala, on June 14, 2018. AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

The Miguel Vargas Association is partnering with Guatemalan groups to provide aid, including churches and volunteer fire departments. Areas heaviest hit were closed to new volunteers for safety and logistical reasons.

The association visited one shelter where they witnessed displaced people sleeping close together on mattresses on the floor.

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A shelter in Guatemala where people displaced by the Volcano of Fire eruption are living. Miguel Vargas Association/MelissaJPhotography Special to The Bee

During another visit, they found nine displaced people living together in one small room.

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A man displaced by Guatemala's Volcano of Fire eruption is now living in a small room with eight other people. Miguel Vargas Association/MelissaJPhotography Special to The Bee

Melissa Coronado said the group wants to return to Guatemala soon to provide more aid, "things like materials for their houses, transport to their jobs, appliances for their homes … This definitely needs continuous work and we want to keep helping."

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge
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