The mountain village of San Marcos, some 80 miles (130 kilometers) 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 that 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. He also encourage people in the affected areas to evacuate and
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.
Nicaragua's disaster management agency said it had issued a local tsunami alert, but there were no immediate reports of a tsunami on the country's Pacific coast.
The country's minister of communications and infrastructure told Emisoras Unidas that landslides had cut off several highways in the west of the country, and it would take at least 24 hours to reestablish transport links to San Marcos, the capital of the department or state of the same name located along Guatemala's northwest border with Mexico.
A spokesman for El Salvador's Red Cross branch told The Associated Press that the quake had been felt throughout the country, sending people fleeing their homes in the capital, but there had been no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage. He said there had been no local tsunami warning issued. El Salvador's Civil Protection agency said officials were evacuating some coastal communities as a precautionary measure.
The mayor of Mexico City said no serious damage or injuries had been reported in the city, although many people had fled their offices and homes during the quake.