Latin America & Caribbean

Guatemala mudslide area declared uninhabitable

A Mexican Army rescue team member and his sniffer dog stand at an area affected by a mudslide in Santa Catarina Pinula on 4 October, 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption More than 120 homes were buried when the hillside collapsed on Thursday evening

Guatemalan officials have declared a neighbourhood which was buried in a mudslide uninhabitable.

More than 160 people died when the mudslide tore through homes in Santa Catarina Pinula on Thursday.

Emergency workers are still excavating the area but have given up hope of finding any survivors.

It is not yet clear what will happen to the survivors and whether the state will offer them help to relocate to safer ground.

Perilous location

Guatemala's National Disaster Reduction Commission (Conred) says it had warned as early as 2009 that the neighbourhood of El Cambray 2, which lies 16km (10 miles) east of Guatemala City, was at risk.

The middle-class neighbourhood was built at the bottom of a steep hillside next to a river.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Heavy machinery is being used to dig through tonnes of mud

Conred said its most recent warning came in November 2014, when it alerted local authorities to the fact that the river was eroding the base of the hill, making the hillside very unstable.

However, residents said they had not been made aware of the risks.

A spokesman for the local authorities in El Cambray 2 said what had happened was "a natural disaster, like an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, which can't be foreseen".

He also said that residents had been told of the Conred report, "but had decided to stay put for a variety of reasons".

Tonnes of earth

Heavy rains had soaked the earth causing it to come crashing down on the houses below late on Thursday, when most residents were asleep.

One-hundred-and-sixty-one people have been confirmed dead and 300 are still missing.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Exhausted relatives have been waiting in front of the town's morgue for the bodies of their loved ones to be identified
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Forensic workers have been drafted in to help with the identification process

Another 230 people are staying in shelters.

President Alejandro Maldonado on Monday declared three days of national mourning.

He also said that he was determined to find all those buried under the mud: "We're not going to stop until we finish this job."

However, conditions at the site of the landslide worsened on Monday.

Conred officials said they had detected cracks in the hilltop through which water was seeping, heightening the risk of further mudslides.

Related Topics

More on this story