SANTA CATARINA PINULA (Guatemala) • At least 30 people were dead and several hundred missing after a landslide smashed through a village on the outskirts of the Guatemalan capital, officials said.
More than 500 rescue workers, police officers and soldiers, as well as desperate residents, clawed away at the debris with picks and shovels searching for survivors all day and into the late evening, before suspending the painstaking hunt for the night last Friday.
Families reported receiving text messages from people they believed to still be trapped more than 24 hours after the landslide struck the village of El Cambray II in the municipality of Santa Catarina Pinula.
The authorities said about 600 people are missing and they expect the death toll to rise. Their estimate is based on the 125 homes that last Thursday's landslide destroyed or damaged after heavy rain. The affected area is about 15km east of the capital Guatemala City.
"We have 29 dead people identified and one still unidentified," said Mr Sergio Cabanas, incident commander for the government's disaster reduction office.
The victims include at least three children. Thirty-four people were pulled out alive from the mud and rubble, while 25 others were injured, officials said. The impact of the heavy rain was exacerbated by a nearby river, they said.
The municipal authorities had urged the community several times to relocate, most recently in November last year.
Amid the debris, 40-year-old mechanic Josue Coloma anxiously looked on as a rescue crew dug through the mud searching for any sign of his two nephews, aged 11 and 14. "My nephews should be in the place where I'm standing," he said.
"The rescue job is very difficult because of the terrain - it's practically as if it were a mountain," said Mr Cecilio Chacaj, a rescuer with a local firefighter unit.
President Alejandro Maldonado said several countries, including the US and Cuba, had offered to help. "We are a beautiful country, but unfortunately we are vulnerable to this type of catastrophes," he said. The hunt for survivors was expected to resume at sunrise.
Eight people had already died in previous weather-related events tied to Guatemala's rainy season, which lasts from May to November. Last year's rainy season was linked to 29 deaths and damage to more than 9,000 homes.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS