SAN MARCOS, Guatemala

7.4 quake kills at least 39, destroys about 30 homes

A 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of Guatemala on Wednesday, killing at least 39 people as it ravaged a small state near the Mexican border, the country’s president said.

The mountain village of San Marcos, 80 miles from the epicenter, suffered much of the damage with about 30 homes collapsing. 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 firefighters, 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.

President Otto Perez Molina told a news conference that he has been informed that the death toll stands at 39 people.

The dead are in the northwestern state of San Marcos near the Mexican border, where the majority of the damage occurred.

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

PARIS

President pushes ahead with gay marriage bill

President Francois Hollande’s Cabinet pushed ahead with a controversial French bill Wednesday that could see gay marriage legalized early next year, defying vocal opposition in the majority Catholic country from religious leaders, the rural heartland and the conservative opposition.

The French leader’s top ministers approved the bill legalizing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, sending it to the legislature for debate, only one day after two American states, Maine and Maryland, became the first in the U.S. to approve same-sex marriage in a popular vote.

Gay marriage has become a contentious issue in France, where Hollande made it a liberal cornerstone of his campaign, hoping it would create a clean break from his conservative predecessor.

At the time, it appeared to have the backing of a majority of the population, but it has since turned into a politically sensitive issue.

Though France would become the 12th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage if the bill passes, the country of 60 million people would become the biggest so far in terms of economic and diplomatic influence.

Polls show a majority of French support gay marriage, but it has divided the country’s left and right, with lawmakers from the conservative UMP denouncing the Cabinet approval Wednesday.

– From news service reports