A rain-sodden hillside, about 300 feet-high, collapsed onto a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Guatemala’s Capital, killing at least 26 people while hundreds are missing and at least 36 were injured.
Family members have reported 100 people missing but the number could be as high as 600, based on at least 100 houses in the area of the slide, said Alejandro Maldonado, executive secretary of Conred, the country’s emergency disaster agency.
Hundreds of rescue workers used shovels and backhoes in a desperate effort to reach survivors on Friday, pulling one man alive from the rubble of his collapsed house, more than 15 hours after the landslide hit late on Thursday.
Julio Sanchez, spokesperson for Guatemala’s volunteer firefighters, said the dead, including two babies, were carried to an improvised morgue where weeping relatives identified their bodies, and families had shown up looking for people who hadn’t been accounted for. He said 36 people were taken to hospitals with injuries.
An image of search and rescue operations after the landslide covered part of the village of El Cambray II, in Santa Catarina Pinula municipality, Guatemala City. (AFP Photo)
Among the bodies, rescuers found a mother embracing her two girls, said Carlos Turcios, a doctor who saw them when he came to help in rescue operations.
Rescuers called off the search late on Friday because rains made it dangerous for emergency crews, but planned to resume on Saturday morning.
The hill that towers over Cambray, a neighbourhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles (15 kilometres) east of Guatemala City, partly collapsed onto a 200-foot (60-metre) stretch of the hamlet, just before midnight, burying an estimated 68 houses.
Housewife Dulce del Carmen Lavarenzo Pu, 28, had just returned from church on Thursday night when the wave of mud swept down just 150 feet (50 metres) from her house.
“I heard this terrible noise and everything began to shake,” Lavarenzo Pu said. “Everything went black, because the lights went out.”
Raul Rodas, an assistant village mayor, said, about 150 families had lived in the area where the mudslide occurred but didn’t know how many might be trapped.
The man pulled alive from the wreckage, Rony Pu, 23, 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 deep as 50 feet (15 metres).
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.”
Then searchers dug out her relative, Rony Ramos, and took him on a stretcher to a hospital. 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 metres (six feet) under the rubble.”
He said rescuers worked frantically for five hours with jackhammers and saws to free Pu.
Some of the untouched houses in Cambray, which sits on the edge of a small river, were abandoned by their owners for fear of further mudslides.
Sanchez, a spokesperson for firefighters, said the dead included Quani Bonilla, 18, who played on the national squash team.