Guatemala: Death toll rises to 73 in landslide

4th Oct 2015
Guatemala: Death toll rises to 73 in  landslide
By Sandra Cuffe

 

RIVAS, Nicaragua(AA): The death toll from a landslide in Guatemala rose to 73 on Saturday, according to officials.

The area where the landslide occurred remains unstable, according to the National Coordination for Disaster Reduction (CONRED). On Saturday evening, the agency urged the general population not to stay in the area, which is considered high risk.

Due to the high death toll, the National Forensic Science Institute and other public agencies have set up a makeshift morgue on site.

The landslide occurred Thursday night when heavy rains caused a hillside to collapse onto El Cambray II, a settlement in Santa Catarina Pinula, located on the southeastern outskirts of Guatemala City.

An estimated 125 homes were buried under a massive layer of earth and debris. As of Friday, an estimated 600 people were missing, said CONRED.

Rescue workers were forced to suspend efforts late Friday due to heavy rains, but resumed Saturday morning. Volunteer firefighters, the army, and the national police force are participating in rescue efforts.

El Cambray II was identified as a high-risk area as far back as 2008, CONRED executive secretary Alejandro Maldonado said Friday afternoon at a press conference. A review last November confirmed the risk, but the area is still heavily populated.

“It is practically impossible to relocate more than 35,000 people to another sector,” said Maldonado, who on Saturday met with the diplomatic corps and representatives of the international community to discuss support efforts, according to the agency.

Maldonado is the son of Guatemalan President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, who came to power last month after his predecessor Otto Pérez Molina resigned due to his alleged involvement in a customs fraud scandal.

“When the country arrives at a moment when it can no longer handle the emergency itself, help is welcome,” said Maldonado Aguirre said.

“At this moment, the first priority is to recover people who might be alive from the debris,” he said.

As is the case with disaster rescue efforts, as time passes, the chance of recovering survivors becomes increasingly unlikely. Rescue efforts continue around the clock, but more heavy rain is expected and may present a challenge.

[Photo: Rescue workers and firemen search for survivors at the site of a of landslide in the municipality of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Oct. 3, 2015.  Photographer:: Stringer/aa]

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