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33 Dead, 70 Missing in Guatemala Mudslide

January 9, 2009

GUATEMALA CITY – At least 33 people died and 70 others were reported missing in a mudslide over the weekend in northern Guatemala, emergency services officials said on Jan. 5.

The mudslide occurred Jan. 4 in Los Chorros, a town in Quiche province, where more than 140 campesinos decided to get out of the trucks transporting them and walk across an area affected by a mudslide that had already killed two people and left two others missing in December.

As they crossed, thousands of tons of mud and stones came off a hill and buried them, according to emergency management office spokesman Sergio Cabañas.

The death toll could rise sharply because of the large number of people reported missing, Cabañas told Guatemalan television by telephone.

A team made up of 180 soldiers, police, firefighters and Red Cross workers conducted search and rescue operations Monday, after being forced to stop work Sunday afternoon when more mud and stones continued to fall off the hill.

The area where the mudslide happened had been closed off several days ago, and a construction company working on the road had pulled out its equipment, officials said.

Vice President Rafael Espada visited the disaster zone on Sunday and said several children were among the dead. Espada said the government would help the victims’ families with the funeral expenses.

The Health Ministry has set up some makeshift morgues to handle the bodies, which will be identified in nearby San Cristóbal, Cabañas said.

 

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