'Fuego' disaster: Forensic experts work on grim task of identifying Guatemala volcano victims
Forensic experts are working on the grim task of identifying dozens of bodies charred beyond recognition by the eruption of Guatemala's Volcano of Fire, a disaster that has left at least 110 confirmed dead and nearly 200 still missing.
Even as search and recovery efforts were suspended for a second day amid dangerous new volcanic flows and dwindling hopes of finding survivors, about 15 forensic experts worked at a makeshift morgue in a warehouse in the southern city of Escuintla.
First, the experts check for anything that could help identify the bodies, such as clothing that has not been burned off by flows said to have reached temperatures as high as 700C.
Later, they will take genetic material from the bones - the only option available - and compare it to blood drawn from people with missing relatives.
The bones can also yield information to help determine age and gender.
"We are extracting the samples from bones to do DNA tests," forensic expert Miguel Morales said, adding: "The tissues are in very bad shape."
Mr Morales said the bodies were essentially mummified, cooked by the extreme heat.
National Institute of Forensic Sciences director Fanuel Garcia Morales said the process can take several days and workers are trying to get the dead to their families as quickly as possible.
"The (bodies) are essentially petrified. It's really a question of that in touching and extracting them (during the recovery), they can fall apart easily," Mr Garcia said.
Dr Carlos Rodas, head of operations at the temporary morgue, said workers were employing a variety of techniques including examination of fingerprints, when available, dentistry and individual characteristics such as birthmarks, scars, tattoos and previously broken bones.
Authorities ordered new evacuations on Friday, warning of activity at the Volcano of Fire and saying dangerous flows of volcanic material, water and sediment were coursing through four canyons.
Residents of the town of El Rodeo, who had recently returned to their homes, were told to leave once again, and people were warned to avoid canyons and areas close to the volcano.
Disaster agency Conred said more than 3,000 workers were attending to families affected by the eruption, and about 3,700 displaced people were being housed in shelters.
Officials say on-and-off downpours have destabilised the terrain and made it too dangerous to work.
But people with missing loved ones have been upset by the suspension of search and recovery efforts.
Some criticised the government's response and travelled into the disaster zones to search for loved ones themselves, digging with their hands or whatever tools they could get hold of.
Estuardo Hernandez, 19, was talking by phone to his father, Margarito Hernandez, when millions of tons of ash tore through the village of San Miguel Los Lotes on the volcano's slope.
"He called me at 3:13pm on Sunday," said Mr Hernandez, who was working in the nearby city of Antigua that day and escaped the deadly flow.
"The last thing he told me was to go far from here. ... The last thing I could hear was him saying: 'Get inside! There's a lot of fire out there.' I say they stayed in the house."
Peering into the ash-filled home, Mr Hernandez pointed at the back wall where he believes his parents tried to seek refuge.
In the days since the disaster, he said, no government official had come by to take down information or lend a hand, even as crews used earth-moving equipment not far away to clear a stretch of blocked highway.
"Without help we can't do anything ... the only thing that matters to the government is the highway," Mr Hernandez said. "Why not bring machinery in here?"