At least 131 killed in Guatemala landslide, hundreds missing

Rescue team members carrying the bodies of mudslide victims to the coroner's truck at the Guatemalan village of Santa Catarina Pinula.
Rescue team members carrying the bodies of mudslide victims to the coroner's truck at the Guatemalan village of Santa Catarina Pinula.PHOTO: REUTERS

SANTA CATARINA PINULA, Guatemala (AFP) - At least 131 people were killed in mudslides that smashed into a village outside Guatemala City, officials said on Sunday (Oct 4), three days after the disaster struck the Central American nation.

"Unfortunately, a new count shows that there are 131 confirmed dead and recovered," and still about 300 people missing and unaccounted for, said volunteer fire brigade spokesman Julio Sanchez.

He told reporters that several young children, including newborn babies, were among the dead in Santa Catarina Pinula.

On Thursday night, following heavy rain, waterlogged earth and debris tore through the village of El Cambray II, in the municipality of Santa Catarina Pinula, destroying or damaging 125 homes.

Relatives of the missing checked in at a makeshift morgue set up next to the buried homes.

Municipal authorities had urged the community, about 15 km east of the capital Guatemala City, to relocate several times, most recently in November of last year.

But many families have refused, saying that they have nowhere to go.

"We can't live here any more," Carlos Hernandez, an electrician who survived the landslide, lamented as he stepped between rescuers with his few remaining belongings on his shoulder.

Late Sunday, rescue workers had to suspend their work when rain resumed, making things too dangerous to continue before Monday. The bad news came as, with every passing hour, hopes for finding survivors fade a bit further.

'There was nothing'

The destruction was sudden and decisive.

"I went on an errand for my mother and when I returned there was nothing," Carlos Ac, 17, told AFP. He was still waiting for word about his missing mother and seven siblings.

In gray denim trousers and a black coat - now the only clothes he has - Ac said his family had come from the city of Quetzaltenango, approximately 200 km to the west of the capital, to sell tortillas.

Alex Lopez, 44, called his ex-wife and daughters as soon as he heard of the landslide. "It rang. But there was no answer," he told AFP.

Families have reported receiving text messages from people they believed to still be trapped.

The impact of the heavy rain was exacerbated by a nearby river, officials said.