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Guatemalan Quake Survivors: We’ll Rebuild

September 20, 1991

SANTIAGO POCHUTA, Guatemala (AP) _ When the earth started heaving and her modest adobe home began collapsing, Maria Choni threw herself over her sleeping baby girl.

″The walls collapsed and we were buried. But my baby was not injured,″ Mrs. Choni told a reporter Thursday amid the ruins. The 31-year-old mother suffered a broken leg and a deep gash in her foot during Wednesday’s earthquake, which killed 20 people.

Santiago Pochuta, a town with a population of 20,000 some 75 miles southwest of Guatemala City, was among the hardest hit by 3:48 a.m. quake that measured 5.3 on the open-ended Richter scale. It injured 75 nationwide.

No one was killed here. But Col. Alfredo Garcia Gomez of the National Emergency Commission said eight out of every 10 buildings - most of them made of adobe - were seriously damaged or destroyed.

Mrs. Choni’s two older children were sleeping in an adjoining room when the quake struck, and they were also buried when their adobe home collapsed. But neighbors dug them out unhurt.

The day after, she was trying to get the rest of her family together, and rebuild their lives.

Now, Mrs. Choni is waiting for her husband, who is out of town, to return so they can rebuild their home. ″It’s not going to stop me,″ she added, pointing to her plaster-encased leg.

″We’re staying here.″

Roads were blocked in many places by landslides that also knocked out power and telephone lines.

″The emergency is over. We now have to work on reconstruction. We must safeguard hygiene to prevent epidemics,″ Garcia said.

Nearby, children played nearby while grownups tried to salvage belongings from the rubble that had once been their homes. Toward the main plaza, a priest urged passers-by to ″repent for your sins ... This that has happened to us is God’s punishment. It is never too late 3/8″

Most of the townsfolk had spent the rest of Wednesday night at a soccer stadium, fearful of aftershocks that can be scarier than a quake itself. But at daybreak, military helicopters started using the stadium to fly in emergency aid, so people had to clear out.

Mardoqueo Lopez and some of his sons were going through a pile of rubble, separating adobe bricks that were still whole and shoveling the rest aside.

″That’s what’s left of my home,″ Lopez explained, resting on his shovel.

″The houses that collapsed did so because they were of adobe. Some of these are 100 and even 200 years old,″ he added, pointing to nearby piles of rubble.

He said the modern buildings survived.

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