Mudslide destroys Guatemala village
5 minutes ago
In October 7 GUATEMALA CITY story headlined "Mudslide destroys Guatemala village, scores dead ," please read in ninth paragraph ... Diego Esquina, the mayor of Santiago Atitlan ... instead of ... Diego Esquina, the mayor of Solola, a town 10 miles across the lake from Panabaj
By Frank Jack Daniel
PANABAJ, Guatemala (Reuters) - Rescuers pulled 71 bodies from a mudslide in a Guatemalan village, and local officials feared hundreds more may have died in the worst single tragedy from rains that devastated Central America.
The mayor of a nearby town said up to 1,000 people may lie buried under the mud, in places 40 feet thick, in the village of Panabaj but that figure could not be confirmed.
Outside emergency teams, who only began digging on Friday, two days after an avalanche of mud, rocks and trees engulfed the village, put the possible death toll at 200 people.
Firemen in muddied red uniforms carried a child's corpse covered only by a banana plant leaf on a makeshift stretcher of tree branches in Panabaj, in remote highlands next to the lakeside town of Santiago Atitlan.
Another rescue worker, his face contorted with grief, carried away a dead toddler wrapped in a plastic bag.
"There are no words for this. I have only tears left," said teacher Manuel Gonzalez, whose school was destroyed.
At least 282 people were confirmed killed in Central America and southern Mexico by floods and mudslides caused by heavy rains from Hurricane Stan.
Hundreds of homes at Panabaj were swallowed when a hillside collapsed in downpours in the early hours of Wednesday.
Diego Esquina, the mayor of Santiago Atitlan, told Reuters the death toll at Panabaj might be between 500 and 1,000.
DIGGING FOR BODIES
Villagers and rescuers dug with spades in search of more victims but it was difficult to find bodies in the huge quagmire. They were considering abandoning the search and declaring the area a mass grave.
Hills sodden with rain gave way throughout Central America, burying flimsy homes made of wood and tin. Floodwaters covered huge swathes of land in the region and in southern Mexico.
Guatemala, where at least 186 people died, was worst hit. At least 67 people were killed in El Salvador, 15 in Mexico, 10 in Nicaragua and four in Honduras.
A Mexican Navy helicopter took time off from rescue efforts around the flooded southern city of Tapachula to fly into Guatemala to airlift 44 people stuck in the town of Malacatan just across the border.
Central America is particularly vulnerable to rain because so many people live in precarious, improvised dwellings dangerously close to riverbeds and on mountainsides.
Hurricane Mitch killed some 10,000 people in the region, mostly in mudslides, in 1998.
The tops of lampposts and trees poked through a river of mud covering Panabaj.
"There were only houses here, for as far as you could see. ... It makes you lose hope," said Gonzalez, his voice cracking. "There are no children left, there are no people left."
The area is popular with U.S. and European tourists visiting the nearby Lake Atitlan, a collapsed volcanic cone filled with turquoise waters.
Some families were awakened in the middle of the night by rumblings from the volcano's slopes and managed to escape, but others were buried alive when a wall of mud crushed their homes a few hours later.
"If somebody had told us to leave, maybe the people would have got out. But they said nothing. Nothing," screamed Marta Tzoc, who grabbed her five children from their home and fled in time.
Across the region, mud-coated bodies piled up in morgues while survivors sobbed and said they needed food and water. Many did not know what had happened to relatives and were desperate for news.
Though Hurricane Stan fizzled out after hitting Mexico early this week, rain is forecast to continue into the weekend.
In Tapachula, Mexico -- a normally bustling town on the Guatemalan border that has been cut off since a wall of water tore through its center -- 72-year-old Luciano Aguilar stood guard with his dog by his destroyed riverside shantytown.
"This has never happened before," he said, surveying the pile of corrugated iron and smashed furniture that used to be his home. "I don't think they're going to let us keep living here."
Some 2,500 homes were destroyed in Tapachula and food was running short.
(Additional reporting by Eduardo Garcia and Herbert Hernandez in Guatemala and Noel Randewich in Tapachula, Mexico)