Gu­atemala fam­ily loses seven, miss­ing four af­ter mud­slide


A wall of mud stopped ev­ery­day life mid- text, mid- sen­tence, mid- dream for the fam­ily of Manuel San­doval and Mar­itza Aquino.

A nor­mal Thurs­day night, daugh­ter- in- law Tanya Gar­cia had made her reg­u­lar evening call to her mother. She wor­ried about her blood pres­sure. Grand­daugh­ter Me­lany San­doval was tex­ting a friend in another state in Gu­atemala, and sud­denly the con­ver­sa­tion stopped.

In all, seven fam­ily mem­bers are now dead and four still miss­ing from the canyon home that San­doval built 16 years ago, and where he, wife Mar­itza, three sons and their fam­i­lies lived. They are among 83 dead and pos­si­bly hun­dreds more buried late Thurs­day when a rain-soaked hill­side col­lapsed in the out­skirts of Gu­atemala City.

Pablo San­doval, the only sur­viv­ing brother, was at work dur­ing the slide and said he heard from a friend that there had been some kind of tragedy in his neigh­bor­hood. When he ar­rived home, he saw “noth­ing but dirt.” It was his job to iden­tify and re­trieve the bod­ies. A large man, he handed out bear hugs and shared tears with scores of peo­ple who streamed through a house loaned for the wake with an open-air court­yard on the town square, with rooms enough for seven cas­kets.

“We were a fam­ily of work­ers, fight­ers, from my par­ents down to the youngest,” he said. “Very car­ing. The best.”

Res­cuers re­sumed the search Sun­day, us­ing back­hoes, shov­els and pick­axes re­cov­ered more bod­ies from the rub­ble as an emer­gency of­fi­cial said another 350 peo­ple were be­lieved miss­ing. Mu­nic­i­pal author­i­ties said that they thought about 300 were miss­ing be­cause some peo­ple were not in the area at the time.

Julio Sanchez, spokesman for Gu­atemala’s vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers, said the death toll will likely con­tinue to rise as emer­gency crews dig through the tons of earth that buried some 125 homes in Cam­bray, a neigh­bor­hood in the sub­urb of Santa Ca- tarina Pin­ula.

As time went on, there was less hope of find­ing sur­vivors.

“Only a mir­a­cle can save them,” said res­cue worker Ines de Leon.

Fam­i­lies pre­pared to bury their dead Sun­day, as mul­ti­ple fu­ner­als were planned.

Dozens of fam­i­lies like the San­dovals con­tin­ued to wait out­side a makeshift morgue as more bod­ies were brought in, hop­ing to find their loved ones.

San­dra Es­co­bar said her mother was in­side view­ing bod­ies in search of fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing aunts, un­cles, cousins and neph­ews. In all, she said there were 20 fam­ily mem­bers they hadn’t heard from since the mud­slide.

Santa Cata­rina, a mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the county of Gu­atemala and set right next to the city lim­its, is a mid­dle-class sub­urb of gov­ern­ment work­ers, sales­men, taxi driv­ers and cooks.

By Satur­day night the res­i­dents were out in the town square in front of the loom­ing white church with pow­der-blue cupu­las, where many of the Masses for the dead would be held.

The cen­tral kiosk with the red tile roof was piled high with do­na­tions, milk, juice boxes, cloth­ing, toi­let pa­per, rice.

Peo­ple cried in the square and at the San­doval wake, where vol­un­teers cooked large pots of rice, beans and chicken and home­made tor­tillas. The San­doval ex­tended fam­ily first learned of the mud­slide via a rel­a­tive’s post­ing on Face­book.

“Tell your rel­a­tives, there’s been an ac­ci­dent,” the post­ing said, ac­cord­ing to Alma Salic, Tanya Gar­cia’s mother.

Many drove all night from around Gu­atemala, some from San Mar­cos state and oth­ers from Peten.

Ed­uardo Perez, 17, who came to pay his re­spects, was up­hill from the San­doval home mak­ing din­ner when the hill­side fell. He and oth­ers ran with sticks to try to res­cue the trapped, climb­ing onto to bro­ken roofs to pull peo­ple out.

In one house, he pulled out a 17-year-old, two younger chil­dren and their mother.

A fourth child, “another sis­ter, a 15-year-old was buried, Perez said. “You could only see her arm and noth­ing else.”

The pho­to­graphs on the cas­kets at the San­doval wake showed their ev­ery­day lives cut short.

San­doval held gov­ern­ment jobs and Aquino worked in a school for the blind. She was get­ting ready to re­tire.

Son Jose San­doval, known as “Johnny,” sold cell­phone ac­ces­sories and loved the Zacapa Gal­los soc­cer team.

“My son- in- law and my grand­son loved play­ing soc­cer to­gether,” Salic said. “He was good son in law he took good care of my daugh­ter, of his fam­ily.”

Her grand­son, Bryan San­doval, 17, was pic­tured with a gi­ant tro­phy from a band com­pe­ti­tion. He was a drum­mer. Older sis­ter, Me­lany, 19, had fin­ished high school and was think­ing about work and study­ing law.

“We were al­ways to­gether. We went on va­ca­tion as kids to my grand­mother’s hours in Zacapa,” said cousin Karla Pirir San­doval, 27. She broke tears think­ing of all the hol­i­days past. “Ev­ery Christ­mas they came for din­ner with us.”

(Left) Res­cue work­ers help a woman af­ter she iden­ti­fied two fam­ily mem­bers as their bod­ies are re­trieved from the site of a mud­slide in Cam­bray, Santa Cata­rina Pin­ula, Gu­atemala City, Satur­day.


(Above) Fire­fight­ers wait for in­struc­tions to start their turn at search­ing for sur­vivors at the site of a mud­slide as the sun sets in Cam­bray, a neigh­bor­hood in the sub­urb of Santa Cata­rina Pin­ula, on the out­skirts of Gu­atemala City, Satur­day, Oct. 3.

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