Diggers hunt for survivors buried in Guatemala landslide | News | DW | 03.10.2015
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Diggers hunt for survivors buried in Guatemala landslide

Hundreds of people are still missing after a landslide in Guatemala, while at least 26 have been reported injured. The landslide could likely turn into one of the worst natural disasters to hit Central America in years.

Rescue workers continued to scrabble through earth and rubble on Saturday in search of survivors after a massive landslide in Guatemala killed at least 48 people, including three infants. A hill towering over Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles (15 kilometers) east of Guatemala City, had partly collapsed onto a 200-foot (60-meter) stretch of the hamlet, burying an estimated 125 homes.

Diggers plowed into the mounds of earth that destroyed homes in Santa Catarina Pinula on the southeastern flank of Guatemala City, as authorities announced that as many as 600 people were unaccounted for after Thursday night's disaster.

Tons of earth, rock and trees cascaded onto part of the town from the hillside above, flattening houses and trapping residents who had gone home for the night.

Time running out for survivors

David de Leon, a spokesman for disaster agency CONRED, said some 1,800 people had shown up to help with the rescue efforts using shovels and pickaxes, including soldiers, firemen and neighbors.

Guatemala landslide

Rescue workers continued throughout the night to search for people buried under the rubble, as the likelihood of locating survivors grew slimmer

He added that some homes had been buried under about 50 feet of earth and said the search effort would continue for at least 72 hours after the disaster, with the likelihood of locating survivors growing slimmer.

Initially there were reports of family members receiving text messages of buried survivors asking to be rescued. Telephone companies were asked to try to map out the places where the messages originated while local media showed images of rescue workers yelling down into the rubble to locate victims. Rescue specialists from the Red Cross and fire and police departments also used dogs to search for survivors in the mudslide zone.

Jimmy Morales

Presidential hopeful Jimmy Morales came to the scene to assess the damage.

But as time progressed there were more and more pictures of families of crying victims waiting in line outside a makeshift morgue near the excavation site to see if they recognized any of the recovered bodies.

"We've been here since last night hoping they will find the bodies of my niece and her four kids," said Guillermo Perez, 55, a teacher from El Salvador, who said he had remained at the scene even after the search was suspended on Friday night.

Precarious days

Presidential hopeful Jimmy Morales arrived at the scene to survey the damage for himself. Morales, a former comic actor, is favored to win a run-off at upcoming polls to be held on October 25.

The tragedy hit Guatemala after weeks of political turmoil, as outgoing President Otto Perez Molina was forced to stand down and was arrested on corruption charges last month, prompting new elections.

ss/sms (AP, Reuters)

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