Rescue workers have uncovered new bodies, as the official death toll from the Guatemalan mudslides has now reached 69 casualties, with 350 more people reportedly missing. The landslides occurred on October 1st, triggered by heavy rain in the village of El Cambray Dos, within the Santa Catarina Pinula municipality, east of Guatemala City.
Over 125 homes have been buried as a result, while other areas have been covered in 49-feet (15 meters) of earth and debris. Julio Sanchez, spokesperson for Guatemala’s volunteer firefighters, has said that the death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams increase efforts to search through the region, under the tons of earth and shattered infrastructure.
Earlier figures estimated that nearly 600 are accounted for, but this was later lowered to 350, because authorities have later determined that some residents were not in the area at the time of the disaster. Search and rescue teams remain optimistic that more people will be found alive under the rubble and debris caused by the landslides. Emergency service coordinator Sergio Cabanas said that volunteers “still have hope of finding people alive if we just keep searching.”
Efforts have been hindered by bad weather, causing authorities to postpone last week’s rescue operations until Sunday, in order to ensure the safety of workers and volunteers. It was later determined that those trapped under the rubble have attempted to escape but time was very limited before being buried under 120,000 tons of debris.
“We’ve found entire families,” said Cabanas. “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.”
Investigators have concluded that some had died instantly on impact, while others had suffocated or had suffered heart attacks. Survivors have come forth with heartbreaking stories about their last conversations with loved ones, later found buried beneath the earth.
Nehemias Gonzalez was working a late night shift at McDonald’s when the tragedy happened. If he had gone home at his usual time of 11 pm, he would have probably been caught by the landslide. In tears and unspeakable sorrow, he told reporters about the last words he exchanged with his 21-year-old wife who was later accounted as one of the victims.
“The last thing she said when I called her on the telephone in the afternoon was that she loved me,” Gonzalez recalled.
Cabanas has said that he had been contacted by people who reported receiving messages and calls from family members still trapped under the debris. A new hope thus emerges for many whose loved ones are nowhere to be found, but for emergency services, this is now a desperate race against time.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia