More than 130 people were killed when massive mudslides buried scores of homes on the outskirts of Guatemala’s capital city, officials said Sunday, as the death toll continued to climb.
Hundreds of people were still missing, three days after the landslides suddenly hit, raising the prospect that the number of people who perished in the disaster could rise much higher.
“Our most recent tally is that there are 96 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.
At dawn 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.
Municipal authorities had urged the community, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) 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.
– ‘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 kilometers 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.