Death toll rises and hundreds still missing after Guatemala Landslide


earthquakeHeavy rain has hampered ongoing rescue efforts in Santa Catarina Pinula. Teams are using heavy machinery as wrecked houses are found to be full of water, indicating anyone in them would have drowned.

Rescuers working through the mud-covered remains of Santa Catarina Pinula, a town just outside the Guatemalan capital, have started to use backhoes and bulldozers to speed up the work of finding bodies.

On Sunday, authorities reported they had recovered 122 bodies. It was unclear how many people were in the 125 homes which were buried in the landslide on Thursday night. No survivors were found over the weekend despite the efforts of 1,800 rescue workers. The houses they have entered were all full of water.

“The people who could have been alive have drowned,” said services coordinator Sergio Cabanas. Rescue personnel on foot would be sent out mainly when a backhoe turned up a body. “Ninety percent of it we will do with heavy machinery,” he added.

There are fears that up to 300 more people may have perished. It is still unclear how many people escaped and went to stay with friends or relatives without telling authorities. At least 21 children and teenagers are known to have died.

Alejandro Lopez, a 45-year-old taxi driver, recovered the bodies of two daughters and a grandson. “I feel lucky because other families can’t even cry over their dead,” he told Reuters, but added: “I would like to find the mother of my daughters.”

Dangerous location

The El Cambray II neighborhood lies at the bottom of a deep ravine ringed by trees. Risks of flooding and landslides were expressed by authorities in a report last year. They said construction permits should never have been granted for the area and recommended relocating families who were living there.

Discussions about how to avoid similar disasters have become part of the debate ahead of a second-round runoff for a new president on October 25. Guatemala’s government has been in disarray for months: President Otto Perez was forced to resign last month and was arrested on corruption charges along with his deputy and a number of other government officials.

jm/cmk (EFE, Reuters)

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