Hope fades for finding survivors of Guatemala mudslide

Authorities said about 300 people may still be missing.

Santa Catarina Pinula: Hope faded today for finding any survivors of a mudslide that killed at least 87 people as the smell of rotting bodies spread across the enormous mound of earth and rescuers reported that the buried dwellings they reached were filled with water, suggesting anyone trapped inside would have drowned.

Authorities said about 300 people may still be missing. But they left open the possibility that many of them had simply fled and taken refuge with relatives without contacting authorities, or that they were not in the 125 buried homes when the mudslide struck.

Rescuers decided to keep individual emergency workers, relatives and reporters off the increasingly foul-smelling mound of dirt 15 meters (yards) deep.

Instead of digging by hand and listening for survivors, rescuers planned to use mostly backhoes and bulldozers to speed up the work of finding bodies.

"The people who could have been alive have drowned," said services coordinator Sergio Cabanas, explaining that rescue personnel on foot would be sent out mainly when a backhoe turns up a body. "Ninety percent of it we will do with heavy machinery."

The grim list of the dead identified so far included at least 21 children and teenagers.

It was discouraging news for those who still held out hope of finding relatives buried by Thursday night's disaster, which inundated much of the Cambray neighborhood in Santa Catarina Pinula, a middle-class community of government workers, salesmen, taxi drivers and cooks.

As time went on, hope of finding anyone alive dwindled.

"Only a miracle can save them," rescue worker Ines de Leon said.

For the family of Manuel Sandoval and Maritza Aquino, the mudslide stopped everyday life mid-text, mid-sentence, mid-dream.

Their daughter-in-law, Tanya Garcia, had made her regular evening call to her mother to check how her blood pressure was. Granddaughter Melany Sandoval was texting a friend in another state in Guatemala. Suddenly the conversation stopped.

In all, seven members of the extended family are dead and four missing from the canyon home that Manuel Sandoval built 16 years ago, where he, wife Maritza, three sons and their families lived.

Pablo Sandoval, the only surviving brother, was at work when the slide hit and said he heard from a friend that there had been some kind of tragedy in his neighborhood. When he arrived home, he saw "nothing but dirt." It was his job to identify and retrieve the bodies.  


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