Over 1400 feared dead in Guatemalan mudslide

 

Rescuers choking on the smell of death dug for bodies in a black grunge of mud, rock and trees today where a Guatemalan village had stood until Hurricane Stan spawned a mudslide that killed up to 1,400 people.

Guatemalan rescue workers carry the body of a mudslide victim
Guatemalan rescue workers carry the body of a mudslide victim

It was one of the biggest tragedies in recent years in Latin America, a region often blighted by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes.

After days of heavy rain from Hurricane Stan, tons of earth crashed down a volcano's slopes and into the Maya Indian village of Panabaj as people slept early on Wednesday, covering it in a quagmire up to 40 feet (12 meters) deep in places.

A fire department spokesman said some 1,400 people had disappeared and were dead.

"There are no survivors here. It happened more than 48 hours ago. They are dead," he told reporters.

Dozens of corpses have already been recovered and locals were drawing up names of the missing and dead, but with so many victims feared buried, authorities said they might abandon the search and declare the village a mass grave.

Rescue workers stuffed herbs in their nostrils to block out the sickly odor of death. Others barked orders in the Mayan Tzutujil language as hundreds of men dug through the sludge with hoes, shovels and pick axes.

"I have been working here for three days. I am crying for our brothers, sisters and children. I have never seen anything like it in my 73 years," said local Manuel Rianda, tears running down his face.

He lives in a nearby village and came to Panabaj to help look for survivors and the dead.

Volunteers uncovered the body of a young girl, her twisted arm poking out from under the mud.

They then found what appeared to be another corpse nearby but the search for victims was suspended as rain fell again, threatening to trigger new mudslides.

The deaths in Panabaj may triple earlier estimates of the toll of fatalities from Hurricane Stan in the poor, Central American nation. The storm claimed another 67 lives in El Salvador, 20 in Mexico, 10 in Nicaragua and four in Honduras.

Large swathes of land in Central America and Mexico were flooded and dozens of mountain villages were hit by mudslides after days of downpours.

Stan was a low-strength Category 1 hurricane and soon fizzled out, but it dumped enough rain on Central America - where many of the poor live in shacks - to be a killer.

Hurricane Mitch killed some 10,000 people in Central America in 1998, mostly in mudslides.

Flash floods and mudslides killed a similar number in Venezuela in 1999. President Oscar Berger said the number of dead and missing across Guatemala was still unknown but the likely toll on human lives was "very alarming."