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Volcano eruption wipes out entire households in Guatemala

A rescue worker says he found family members, searching for shelter in their homes, locked in a final embrace.

EL RODEO, Guatemala — Fighting back tears, José Alberto Miche, 18, said Sunday began as a day like any other.

The teenager said the Fuego volcano, less than a mile from his hometown, El Rodeo, was always active, but would always calm down. The last major eruption was in 1974.

But this Sunday was different.

As of Wednesday, 75 people have been killed since the eruption, officials said. However, the death toll is expected to rise further.

“We don’t expect to find any survivors,” one firefighter told NBC News Tuesday as he headed up the volcano.

Miche said he remembers getting ready for work and walking with his mother to the road outside El Rodeo, one of the hardest-hit villages since Sunday's eruption."I felt like something bad was going to happen. I said goodbye,” he said Tuesday, tears streaming down his face.

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“That was the last time I saw her.”

Miche lost nine members of his family in the eruption, including both parents. His younger sister also survived.

The quick-moving pyroclastic flow — a mix of hot lava, pumice, ash and volcanic gas moving down volcanic slopes at speeds as high as 430 mph — surprised entire villages.Another rescue worker, Juan José Chávez, said, “We’ve found dead children and entire families hugging each other who tried to take shelter in their homes.”

Image: Guatemala Volcano
Rescue workers search in El Rodeo, one of the hamlets in the disaster area near the Volcán de Fuego, on Tuesday. Rodrigo Abd / AP

Eduardo Armando Rivero Sánchez, whose daughter went missing after the eruption, was standing by rescue workers in El Rodeo, anxiously awaiting news of any rescues.

“The lava came over and buried the houses,” Sánchez recalled. “We were running away, but many people fell and were left buried.”

The residents of El Rodeo say there was absolutely no warning about the fast-moving lava that followed the eruption. “No alerts went out,” said Sánchez.

In the nearby town of Escuintla, a makeshift shelter has been set up in the church, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Roughly 300 crouched inside with their few belongings, in shock and in mourning for the loved ones they’ve lost.

Julio López, who was inside, said he saved his 2-year-old daughter and 4-month-old baby but lost eight other relatives. López doesn’t know where he’ll go after the shelter. “My house is gone, my land is gone,” he said.