GUATEMALA: The 39 Seconds: An Eternity of Terror

It was 3 a.m. in Guatemala City when Genaro Castro was jolted awake by the thunderously loud rumble of buckling earth and masonry. Grabbing his terrified and screaming child, he stumbled over the shifting floor of his adobe house to the door. A pressure beyond his frantic strength held it shut. While he was still grappling with the door, the front wall of his home crashed outward into the street, leaving Castro and his son standing exposed but unharmed. They had just survived one of the century's most destructive natural disasters.

The...