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Guatemalan mudslide death toll reaches 69 with hundreds still missing

Rescue workers using shovels and pickaxes recovered more bodies from the rubble of a collapsed hillside on the outskirts of Guatemala City as the death toll rose to 69 with another 350 people believed missing.

Julio Sanchez, spokesman for Guatemala's volunteer firefighters, said the death toll will probably continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth that buried some 125 homes on Thursday night in Cambray, in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula.

Earlier estimates had said that 600 people could be missing.

Despite the passing time, emergency services co-ordinator Sergio Cabanas said rescuers "still have hope of finding people alive if we just keep searching".

At the site, workers with dogs laboured without rest, halting only when a long whistle sounded, testing if anyone was still alive under the mud and debris.

"We're from the rescue unit," one worker announced. "If there is someone there, please make some noise or yell."

When no response was heard, two more long whistles sounded, a sign that the workers should continue digging.

Mr Cabanas said he had been contacted by several people who reported receiving messages on their mobile from family members trapped under the rubble.

He said authorities had not seen the reported text messages, but had asked local telephone companies to try to map out the places where the messages were sent from.

Late on Saturday, hopes began to fade among rescue workers and authorities announced that the search would be suspended until the morning to guarantee the safety of the workers.

"Given the time that has passed, the truth is there is little hope" of finding survivors, said

Ines de Leon or the Volunteer Firefighters Rescue Brigade of Retalhuleu province said that given the time that had passed, there was little hope of finding survivors.

"Only a miracle can save them," he said.

Among those mourning relatives was Nehemias Gonzalez, who lost his 21-year-old wife, Masiel Alexandra, and their two-year-old child, Angel Efrain.

He said he was working at his job at a McDonald's restaurant when the landslide occurred.

"The last thing she said when I called her on the telephone in the afternoon was that she loved me," he said, looking down at the ground. "I love her, too."

The dead were being brought to an improvised morgue where weeping relatives identified the bodies. The dead included Quani Bonilla, 18, who played on the national squash team.

Also among the bodies, rescuers found a mother embracing her two girls, said Carlos Turcios, a doctor who saw them when he came to help the rescue.

The hill that towers over Cambray, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, partly collapsed onto a 200-foot stretch of the hamlet just before midnight, burying an estimated 125 homes.

Raul Rodas, an assistant village mayor, said about 150 families had lived in the area where the mudslide occurred.

Some of the untouched homes in Cambray, which sits on the edge of a small river, were abandoned by their owners for fear of further mudslides.


From Belfast Telegraph