Gu­atemala land­slide kills 30, with hun­dreds still miss­ing

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY SO­NIA PEREZ D.

Home­maker Dulce del Car­men Lavarenzo Pu had just re­turned from church when the ground shook and she heard a ter­ri­ble noise. A wave of mud slid from the nearby moun­tain­side and buried ev­ery­thing just 50 me­ters from her house.

“Ev­ery­thing went black, be­cause the lights went out,” said the 28-year-old of the mud­slide that struck Thurs­day night in her neigh­bor­hood on the out­skirts of Gu­atemala City. “Ash and dust were fall­ing, so we left the house. You couldn’t see any­thing.”

The rain-sod­den hill­side about 100 me­ters high had col­lapsed onto her neigh­bor­hood, killing at least 30 peo­ple, in­clud­ing the cousin of Lavarenzo Pu. She burst into tears upon see­ing the body of her cousin brought into the morgue on Fri­day. Another 36 peo­ple were in­jured.

The num­ber of dead was ex­pected to rise with fam­ily mem­bers re­port­ing 100 peo­ple miss­ing. The num­ber of miss­ing could be as high as 600 based on at least 100 homes in the area of the slide, said Ale­jan­dro Mal­don­ado, ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of Conred, Gu­atemala’s emer­gency dis­as­ter agency.

Search ef­forts re­sumed at dawn on Satur­day. Julio Sanchez, spokesman for Gu­atemala’s vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers, said that work­ers had re­cov­ered four more bod­ies in the early morn­ing, rais­ing the death toll from 26 to 30.

Hun­dreds of res­cue work­ers used shov­els, pick­axes, dogs and back­hoes in a fran­tic bid to reach sur­vivors Fri­day, pulling one man alive from the rub­ble of his col­lapsed home more than 15 hours af­ter the land­slide hit. They had to call off the search late Fri­day un­til Satur­day morn­ing for work­ers’ se­cu­rity be­cause they were get­ting tired and it was start­ing to rain, author­i­ties said.

Sanchez said Fri­day that the dead, in­clud­ing two ba­bies, were car­ried to an im­pro­vised morgue where weep­ing rel­a­tives iden­ti­fied the bod­ies of their loved ones. The dead in­cluded Quani Bonilla, 18, who played on the na­tional squash team, he said.

Also among the bod­ies, res­cuers found a mother em­brac­ing her two girls, said Car­los Tur­cios, a doc­tor who saw them when he came to help the res­cue.

The hill that tow­ers over Cam­bray, a neigh­bor­hood in the sub­urb of Santa Cata­rina Pin­ula, about 15 kilo­me­ters ( 10 miles) east of Gu­atemala City, partly col­lapsed onto a 60-me­ter stretch of the ham­let just be­fore mid­night, bury­ing an es­ti­mated 68 homes. Raul Ro­das, an as­sis­tant vil­lage mayor, said about 150 fam­i­lies had lived in the area where the mud­slide oc­curred.

Some of the un­touched homes in Cam­bray, which sits on the edge of a small river, were aban­doned by their own­ers for fear of fur­ther mud­slides.

Early in the day, Marleni Pu, 25, stood at the edge of the mud­slide, her face swollen with weep­ing.

“My un­cles, my cousins, my nieces and neph­ews are all there,” she said, look­ing across the field of de­bris where about two dozen rel­a­tives had lived. “Six houses where my rel­a­tives lived are all un­der the hill­side now.”

Searchers dug out her rel­a­tive, Rony Ramos, 23, who was res­cued from a home near the edge of mud­flow. But at its cen­ter, the land­slide buried houses un­der a layer of rocks and earth as much as 15 me­ters deep. He had ap­par­ently been trapped in an air pocket, face down and un­able to move. Author­i­ties orig­i­nally iden­ti­fied him as Ronny Pu.

“When our per­son­nel were search­ing through the rub­ble, they heard a voice,” said res­cue worker Ce­cilio Cha­caj. “They lo­cated the man, who was buried about two me­ters (six feet) un­der rub­ble.” He said res­cuers worked fran­ti­cally for five hours with jack­ham­mers and saws to free Ramos.

All day, restau­rants brought pizza, ham­burg­ers, cof­fee and bot­tle wa­ter for the work­ers, who took 30-minute shifts search­ing through the mud with the help of gen­er­a­tors and over­head lights. By af­ter­noon, some were so tired they were seen tak­ing naps on the floor.

The mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment said it would pro­vide coffins for the vic­tims.

AP

Res­cue work­ers search for sur­vivors af­ter a land­slide hit Cam­bray, a neigh­bor­hood in the sub­urb of Santa Cata­rina Pin­ula, about 15 kilo­me­ters (10 miles) east of Gu­atemala City, Fri­day, Oct. 2.

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