“It is very difficult for us to identify them because some of the dead lost their features or their fingerprints,” Garcia said, according to the Associated Press.
The volcano spewed a five-mile stream of red-hot lava. Some bodies were so thickly coated with ash that they looked like statues.
Local television footage showed residents of villages walking through the streets, caskets hoisted on their shoulders.
Using shovels and backhoes, emergency workers dug through the debris and mud, perilous labor on smoldering terrain still hot enough to melt shoe soles a day after the volcano exploded in a hail of ash, smoke and molten rock.
The quick-moving pyroclastic flow — a mix of hot lava blocks, pumice, ash and volcanic gas moving at high speed down volcanic slopes — surprised some residents.
“Not everybody could leave — I’d say they were left buried,” Consuelo Hernández, a resident of the town of El Rodeo near the volcano, told el Periodico newspaper.
“Where we live the lava was coming down an alleyway … we ran to a hillside. If there are people buried, the lava came over the plots of land and streets.”
Authorities said that more than 1.7 million people have been affected by the eruption — the 12,346-foot volcano’s second this year.
Residents of the nearby towns are no strangers to volcanic activity. The Volcano of Fire has erupted on and off for centuries, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Guatemala, with a population of 15 million, is home to a chain of volcanoes that run parallel to the Pacific Ocean.