(Updates casualty count, adds Insivumeh official's remarks)


The death toll in the magnitude-7.4 earthquake that struck Guatemala on Wednesday now stands at 39 and local authorities said that it could go higher.

Arnoldo Rivera, the governor of the northwestern province of San Marcos, told local media earlier in the day that "officially ... there are 29 fatalities and 155 people injured," but 10 more fatalities were later added to that total as emergency crews searched the rubble of collapsed buildings in the province.

At least 135 homes in that region were destroyed, he said.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said earlier at a press conference at the headquarters of the Conred emergency management agency that around 100 people were listed as missing in San Marcos.

Besides San Marcos, the quake also affected the provinces of Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, Quiche, Solola and Totonicapan, in the eastern and northeastern parts of the country.

The temblor's epicenter was offshore, 24 kilometers (14 miles) south of the Pacific coast town of Champerico, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

In remarks to local radio, the head of the Insivumeh natural disasters institute, Eddy Sanchez, said that Guatemala was in a "critical situation," but he called for the public to remain calm and said that no tsunami alert had been issued and no aftershocks had been registered.

The quake, which occurred at 10:35 a.m., is the strongest to hit Guatemala since the Feb. 4, 1976, magnitude-7.5 temblor that took the lives of more than 25,000 people and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Thousands of people fled into the streets to avoid being trapped in collapsing buildings during the seismic event, and workers in public buildings were evacuated to get them to safety.

The earthquake was also felt in parts of neighboring Mexico and El Salvador. EFE