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1902

Earthquake rocks Guatemala

The last and most powerful in a series of earthquakes rocks Western Guatemala on this day in 1902. More than 2,000 people were killed and 50,000 left homeless by the destruction.

The quakes struck the Quetzaltenango area in southwestern Guatemala beginning the previous evening. In the midst of flooding caused by a thunderstorm, a 7.5-magnitude quake centered near the Santa Maria volcano caused panic in the nearby towns, as houses shook violently on the dark, stormy night. Fleeing to the streets, though, was perilous because of flooding and mudslides.

In the early morning hours of April 19, the biggest tremor, with a magnitude of 8.2, struck. It was felt by people as far north as Mexico and as far south as Belize. Bridges and roads were destroyed by the seismic shaking, seriously impeding rescue efforts. Guatemala was in the middle of an economic depression at the time and the quakes were a particular hardship for the thousands whose homes were made uninhabitable.

1902 was a record year for seismic activity and the April 18-19 quakes were not the end of it. The southern Mexican Colima volcano became active soon after, ending years of dormancy. And on October 24, the Santa Maria volcano, where the Guatemala quakes originated, erupted. The towns of the Quetzaltenango region were covered with ash, which in some places reached a height of three feet.

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