Hope dims for finding survivors of deadly mudslide in Guatemala
Hope faded Sunday for finding any survivors of a mudslide that killed at least 131 people as the smell of rotting bodies spread across the enormous mound of earth and rescuers reported the buried dwellings they reached were filled with water, suggesting anyone trapped inside would have drowned.
Rescue workers on Sunday pulled more corpses from the mound created when a hillside collapsed and covered about 1.7 hectares (4 acres) with mud and dirt as deep as 15 meters.
Julio Sanchez, spokesman for Guatemala’s volunteer firefighters, said 131 bodies had been pulled from the mud.
At an improvised morgue, 82 bodies have been identified and handed over to relatives, said municipal medical examiner Dr. Carlos Augusto Rodas Gonzalez. However, other bodies, some of which were found in pieces, remain unidentified.
The grim list of the dead who have been identified included at least 26 children and teenagers.
Rescuers decided to keep individual emergency workers, relatives and reporters off the increasingly foul-smelling mound of dirt. Instead of digging by hand and listening for survivors, crews planned to use mostly backhoes and bulldozers to speed up the search for bodies.
“The people who could have been alive have drowned,” said services coordinator Sergio Cabanas, explaining that rescue personnel on foot would be sent out mainly when a backhoe turns up a corpse. “Ninety percent of it we will do with heavy machinery.”
Authorities said about 300 people may still be missing. But they left open the possibility that many of them had simply fled and taken refuge with relatives without contacting authorities, or that they were not in the 125 buried homes when the mudslide struck.
It was discouraging news for those who still held out hope of finding relatives buried by Thursday night’s disaster, which inundated much of the Cambray neighborhood in Santa Catarina Pinula, a middleclass community of government workers, salesmen, taxi drivers and cooks.
A student, member of the school marching band cries as she carries the coffin of her classmate and fellow band member Bryan Sandoval who died in a mudslide, to the Santa Catarina Pinula cemetery on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Sunday, Oct. 4.