Over 50 dead after 7.4-magnitude earthquake rocks Guatemala

SAN MARCOS, Guatemala (CNN) -- It was the first time that 6-year-old Giovanni went to "work" at the local sand quarry near his home in southwestern Guatemala.

The school year had ended, and the boy was bored. He begged his mother to let him accompany his grandfather to the quarry in the San Marcos department.

His mother, Maria Francisca, had doubts about letting the boy go, but relented because his grandfather and uncle both worked there and could keep an eye on him.

The men earned a living loading trucks with sand, and were about to begin their day Wednesday when a powerful 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck. The quake left at least 52 people dead, President Otto Perez Molina said, including Giovanni, his grandfather and his uncle.

More than 2,200 homes were damaged and there were hundreds of injuries.

A neighbor arrived at the quarry half an hour after the quake to find that the mountain of sand had shifted as if it were made of sugar.

"There were people crying and yelling, but no one was doing anything to rescue them," the witness, Manuel de Leon, said.

He called more neighbors and they began digging, praying for a miracle.

"The Chilean miners survived for a long time underground," someone said, but hope vanished quickly.

The first two bodies to be recovered from the sand were Giovanni and his grandfather, Mario Ramirez. They were wrapped around each other in the sand, as if the grandfather tried to shelter Giovanni until the end.

Two more victims, including the boy's uncle, also were found. Three others were missing in the mountain of sand.

Residents felt the quake throughout Central America and as far north as Mexico City. Its epicenter was about 15 miles off the western coastal town of Champerico, at a depth of 26 miles.

It was the strongest quake to hit Guatemala since 1976, the president told reporters, when a 7.5-magnitude quake killed 23,000 people.