Guatemala landslide death toll now at 69

A woman with a religious statue and belongings evacuating from a mudslide-hit area in Santa Catarina Pinula. Hopes of finding more survivors are fading.
A woman with a religious statue and belongings evacuating from a mudslide-hit area in Santa Catarina Pinula. Hopes of finding more survivors are fading.PHOTO: REUTERS

SANTA CATARINA PINULA (Guatemala) • At least 69 people were killed when massive mudslides buried scores of homes on the outskirts of Guatemala's capital city, officials said on Saturday, as the death toll continues to climb.

An estimated 300 people are still missing, two days after the landslides hit suddenly, raising the prospect that the number of people who perished in the disaster could rise much higher.

Mr Julio Sanchez, a spokesman for firefighters who are leading the painstaking search for survivors, 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.

At dawn on Saturday, rescue workers, police, soldiers and volunteers began a second day of clawing away at the debris with picks and shovels.

Two firefighters were injured later in the day when a wall collapsed as they were trying to extract a body from the rubble.

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

The municipal authorities had urged the community, about 15km east of the capital Guatemala City, to relocate several times, most recently in November last year. But many families have refused, saying that they have nowhere to go.

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

The destruction was sudden and decisive.

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

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

Mr Alex Lopez, 44, called his former wife and daughters as soon as he heard of the landslides. "It rang. But there was no answer," he told Agence France-Presse. On Saturday, he was waiting for the body of his former wife and had already been given those of his two daughters, aged 21 and 22, and his two-year-old grandson.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Guatemala landslide death toll now at 69'. Print Edition | Subscribe