Guatemala Landslide: scores dead and even more missing

A rescuer holds the body of a child recovered from the mud and debris. Photo: Moises Castillo/AP

Hopes have faded of finding the hundreds of people still missing after a huge landslide in Guatemala.

At least 86 people have been killed in the disaster which struck near the capital, Guatemala City on Thursday night, burying homes under tons of earth and rubble.

Authorities at the scene have said that 350 people were still unaccounted for as rescue workers continue to scrabble through debris looking for survivors.

The scene of the mudslide in El Cambray, Guatemala. Photo: CNN
The scene of the mudslide in El Cambray, Guatemala. Photo: CNN

Tons of earth, rock and trees tumbled onto parts of the town from the hillside above, destroying houses and trapping residents who had gone home for the night. The homes engulfed by the landslide were built in a neighbourhood of the town known as El Cambray which is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) east of the countries capital. The landslide has turned a living village into a mass grave.

Rain had soaked the village and hills that rise steeply up around it. The town is situated in a deep valley, leaving little space between the hillside and the homes below to buffer the force of the earth and trees that fell down on them.

The rescuers and villagers formed long lines of up to 100 people to pass away mud and debris. Some carried out the bodies of neighbours and loved ones, including children.

Around 1,800 soldiers, firemen and neighbours helped with the rescue efforts, according to David de Leon, a spokesman for Conred, who said some homes had been buried under about 50 feet (15 metres) of earth and doubts that any more of the missing will be found.

A doll and clothing lie in the mud as rescue workers continue to search the site Photo: AFP
A doll and clothing lie in the mud as rescue workers continue to search the site Photo: AFP

 Holding photos of loved-ones, family members stood  outside a makeshift morgue near the excavation site, some of them crying, to see if they recognised any corpses.

“This is the worst thing that has happened to us,” said Ana Maria Escobar, a 48-year-old housewife, sobbing as she waited for news of 21 missing family members who lived in the town she had left a year ago. “So far only my sister-in-law has been found,” she added.

“I have 20 missing family members — my seven brothers, my dad and my brother-in-law” among them, another villager said.

Neighbours comfort each other as rescuers continue the search for the townspeople. Photo: AP
Neighbours comfort each other as rescuers continue the search for the townspeople. Photo: AP

Gaby Ramirez, an18-year-old courier, had been searching for her brother with shovel in hand since 6am, after the landslide buried a neighbour’s house he was visiting. “I don’t hope to find him alive, but I do hope to find his body and bury him,” she said. “I have to bury him, I can’t leave him there.”

The tragedy has hit Guatemala after weeks of political turmoil, just as it prepares to elect a new president. As Last month, President Otto Perez was forced to stand down and was arrested on corruption charges.

Sources: CNN, The Guardian, New York Times


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