Relaymedia

In Guatemala Mudslide, Searchers Find Entire Dead Families Huddled Together

Beneath the mud and rock that engulfed the small Guatemalan town of Santa Catarina Pinula last week, search crews have found entire families who died huddled together after they were buried alive.
Rescue workers arrive at an area affected by a mudslide in Santa Catarina Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Beneath the mud and rock that engulfed the small Guatemalan town of Santa Catarina Pinula last week, search crews have found entire families who died huddled together after they were buried alive.

At least 132 people were killed in Thursday's disaster just outside Guatemala City, and emergency services chief Alejandro Maldonado said on Monday at least 300 people were still unaccounted for.

The Guatemalan Red Cross made an appeal on Twitter for dry ice at its provisional morgue in the town.

The mud that engulfed the El Cambray II neighborhood in Santa Catarina Pinula, which is located at the bottom of a deep ravine ringed by trees, is so deep that rescue workers are descending 39 feet (12 meters) through narrow shafts to reach the roofs of homes.

"We've found entire families," said Sergio Cabanas, an official at disaster agency Conred. "We found almost all of them huddled together, which means that they were going to try and evacuate but sadly they didn't have time."

"Some died from the impact, some from asphyxiation and some ... from heart attacks," he added.

Rescue efforts have been complicated by the precarious situation at the site, said Cabanas. There were two smaller landslides on Monday. A nearby river has risen by over 3 feet (a meter), and rescue workers fear for the stability of the mountain peak where the landslide began.

So far, no survivors have been found at the site, and rescue workers say the chances of finding anyone alive under the 120,000 tonnes of earth that buried the area are close to zero.

But the emergency services vowed to keep up the search.

"Our determination to continue is firm. We're not going to stop until we finish the job. The objective is that nobody is left buried at the site," Maldonado told a press conference.

Guatemala's government, which is in disarray after former President Otto Perez was forced to resign and was arrested on corruption charges last month, declared three days of mourning for those lost in the landslide.

It has vowed to relocate those still living in nearby risky areas to avoid a repeat disaster.