SAN MARCOS, Guatemala (AP) - A 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of Guatemala on Wednesday, ravaging a small state near the Mexican border, where three people were confirmed dead and as many as 100 missing, according to preliminary reports from the country's president.
The mountain village of San Marcos, some 80 miles from the epicenter, suffered much of the damage with some 30 homes collapsing in its center. Hundreds of frightened villagers were on the streets, one of which was cracked open by the temblor, the strongest to hit Guatemala since a deadly 1976 quake that killed 23,000.
More than 300 people, including firemen, policemen and villagers, worked at a sand extraction site to rescue seven people reported buried alive, including a 6-year-old boy that had accompanied his grandfather to work.
"I want to see Giovanni, I want to see Giovanni," the boy's mother, Francisca Ramirez frantically cried. "He's not dead. Get him out."
President Otto Perez Molina updated the casualties throughout the day, earlier reporting as many as 15 dead and saying three were confirmed by mid-afternoon. He said 100 more people were missing.
The quake, about 20 miles deep, was centered about 15 miles off the coastal town of Champerico and about 100 miles southwest of Guatemala City, shaking buildings as far away as Mexico City and El Salvador.
Survivors by radio and social media talked of widespread landslides and people trapped.
"I've been in Guatemala for almost two years I am used to earthquakes. This was a lot more severe, a lot more shaky," said Peace Corps volunteer Adam Baker, 27, of Carmel, Indiana, who tweeted a picture of a small landslide behind his house in the nearby state of Quetzaltenango. "Things fell in my kitchen."
Perez said more than 2,000 soldiers were deployed from a base in San Marcos to help with disaster relief. A plane had already made two trips with special disaster relief teams to the San Marcos area, about 80 miles from the epicenter. He asked that civilians in the country of 14 million to stay put and not travel on highways because of the collapse highways and debris.
The president said the country was on the highest level of alert of subsequent earthquakes in the next few hours. Perez encouraged civilians in affected areas to evacuate and avoid talk buildings.
"There is very high risk of aftershocks," the president said, adding that 150 people had already been evacuated by air.