The following account is based on reports filed by correspondent Stephen Sywulka in Guatemala City, an interview with a mission official conducted by correspondent Robert Niklaus, summaries by Religious News Service and other news agencies, and releases by mission and relief agencies. It was written by associate editor Arthur H. Matthews.
Shortly after 3 A.M. on February 4, an earth tremor awoke Bill and Rachel Vasey, Primitive Methodist missionaries in Joyabaj, Guatemala. Instinctively, they ran for the door. They got out of the room just in time. Central America’s worst recorded earthquake caused the walls to cave in, crushing their bed.
In a guest room were two visitors from their mission board. They remained in bed, and after the initial shock the space separating their beds was filled with rubble and walls were gone on the sides of the beds. But neither the Vaseys nor their guests were injured.
The story could be repeated over and over as the more than 300 North American missionaries in Guatemala reported to their home agencies that they were safe. Not a single missionary was known to have been injured seriously in the earthquake that took the lives of over 17,000 Guatemalans.
The Vasey’s children, along with sons and daughters of many other missionaries, were not at home when the house was destroyed. They were all safe in the mission boarding school at Huehuetenango, which was not damaged.
The earthquake, followed by as many as five hundred aftershocks, was described by U. S. Ambassador Francis Meloy as “the greatest disaster that has befallen central America in recorded history.” The first tremor registered 7.5 on the Richter scale. The most populous part of the nation of about 5.5 million—an area around the capital city ...1
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