Latin America & Caribbean

Search for Guatemalans buried in rubbish tip slide

Garbage collectors look at rescue teams working at the site where a massive pile of garbage collapsed at a landfill dumpsite in Guatemala City Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hundreds of garbage collectors were ordered to evacuate when the slide began, but the authorities said some ignored the alarm.

Rescue workers in Guatemala City are searching for survivors after part of a huge rubbish dump collapsed on Wednesday following heavy rain.

Four bodies have been found but dozens of people were pulled out of the rubbish alive. Many are still missing.

Eyewitnesses said they heard a rumble as part of the rubbish tip slid down a slope.

About 1,000 rubbish pickers work at the dump and the authorities say some ignored an evacuation alarm.

Jorge Perez, 23, told Guatemala's Prensa Libre newspaper he had tried to rescue his brother when the rubbish and earth around them started to move.

"I was with my brother. The earth opened and was going to swallow us up. I grabbed my brother by the foot. I held onto his shirt. The rubbish was pressing down on him more and more. Some people were running and fell into the rubbish. "

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Firefighters worked to rescue victims until early evening when the ground was considered too unstable to work on

Mr Perez said after a few minutes his brother was having difficulty breathing so he started scrapping away the rubbish to expose his face.

"His eyes became red and he started foaming from the mouth. I didn't let go of him. I started to dig and dig."

His brother is now recovering in hospital after being rescued by emergency workers.

Eyewitnesses say there are at least four rubbish collection trucks with people inside buried under the slide.

A municipal spokesman said a transport policeman who was supervising the trucks has also disappeared.

The rubbish slide occurred in an area of Guatemala City well known for landslides because of deforestation, and steep slopes susceptible to instability, especially during and after heavy rains.

The rubbish tip is one of several around the Guatemalan capital that have grown since the 1950s.

An informal recycling industry has grown up with rubbish pickers hunting through the detritus to find material to sell.

More on this story