Guatemalans spend a night on watch, after six earthquakes hit in single day

Six earthquakes hit the tiny Central American nation of Guatemala Monday, killing at least three people.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
Residents look on inside their damaged house after an earthquake in Cuilapa, Guatemala, Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Four earthquakes struck the southeastern part of Guatemala in less than two hours Monday afternoon.

Caroline Truttmann, a photographer and teacher, remained vigilant throughout the night after four earthquakes rocked Guatemala in about two hours Monday. Before she went to bed, another tremor with a magnitude of 4.6 struck at 10:28 p.m. local time, bringing the total to six for the day for residents throughout the country. “I have my flashlight, my water, my clothes. I’m prepared for the night,” Ms. Truttmann told the Monitor.

It was a rude shock for most Guatemalans as they returned to the grind following a weekend of Independence Day celebrations. Buildings shook in the capital and schools closed throughout the country as the midday quakes struck. The tremors provoked landslides in some areas. At least three were killed.

Emergency services are battling to restore power in the region and ensure that recent torrential rain combined with the earthquakes does not result in more landslides.

According to the US Geological Survey, the first earthquake, registered at a magnitude of 4.8, hit at 11:00 a.m. Within 33 minutes the largest
tremor at a magnitude of 5.8 hit, followed by two more at magnitudes 4.8 and 4.5 in a 2-1/2 hour span.

The quakes were centered along the southwestern coast of Guatemala, around Santa Rosa where a few people were reported dead after being buried in a landslide.

In Guatemala City’s dense urban zones the quakes were strong enough to break the windows of high-rise buildings and some schools, such as Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, closed early. In Santa Clara all schools were shut down as the National Commission for the Reduction of Disasters put the country on alert due to the increasing intensity of the quakes and possible aftershocks.

“It was scary. But thankfully, for me I was only scared,” says Truttmann. “The people worst off are those with the houses made of the poorest materials. The ones that can afford it the least.”

Schoolteacher Carmen Campos described the scene in her school. “Things got a little crazy because the kids didn't know what to do. We had to do the
earthquake procedure three times, where they wait underneath a table for 60 seconds.” The school closed in the early afternoon.

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