SAN MARCOS, Guatemala — A 7.4-magnitude earthquake rocked Guatemala on Wednesday, killing at least 48 people in two provinces as it toppled thick adobe walls, shook huge landslides down onto highways, and sent terrified villagers streaming into the streets of this idyllic mountain town near the border with Mexico. About 100 people were missing, and hundreds were injured.
The quake, which hit at 10:35 a.m. during a workday, caused terror over an unusually wide area, with damage reported in all but one of Guatemala's 22 states and shaking felt as far away as Mexico City, 600 miles to the northwest. There were five strong aftershocks by Wednesday night.
President Otto Perez Molina said at a news conference that 40 people died in the province of San Marcos and eight more were killed in the neighboring province of Quetzaltenango.
San Marcos, where more than 30 homes collapsed, bore the brunt of the temblor's fury.
More than 300 people, including firefighters, policemen and villagers, tried to dig through half a ton of sand at a quarry in the commercial center of town in a desperate attempt to rescue seven people thought buried alive. Among those under the sand was a 6-year-old boy who had accompanied his grandfather to work.
Perez flew to San Marcos to view the damage. He said the death toll stood at 39, most of it in this lush mountainous region of 50,000 indigenous farmers and ranchers, many belonging to the Mam ethnic group.
"One thing is to hear about what happened and another thing entirely is to see it," Perez said. "As a Guatemalan I feel sad ... to see mothers crying for their lost children."
The quake, which was 20 miles deep, was centered 15 miles off the coastal town of Champerico and 100 miles southwest of Guatemala City. It was the strongest earthquake to hit Guatemala since a 1976 temblor that killed 23,000.