Thu, Jan 08, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Guatemala calls off rescue efforts after rockslides

AGENCIES , GUATEMALA CITY

Threatened by rockfalls, rescue workers called off their search for bodies on Tuesday and gave up on finding anybody alive in the rubble of a landslide in northern Guatemala that killed at least 34 coffee laborers.

Rescue teams using shovels and their bare hands recovered the bodies of 28 coffee farm workers crushed when part of a mountain collapsed on a road they were walking along on Sunday.

The remaining bodies have not been found, but a spokesman for disaster relief commission CONRED said the fact that rocks were falling every few minutes at the site made the search too dangerous.

“Sadly there’s no possibility of finding anyone alive,” spokesman Hugo Arvizu said.

At least 50 are still missing, many of them laborers at nearby coffee plantations who skirted roadblocks erected after another deadly slide hit the same road two weeks ago. That avalanche killed two people.

Local mayor Leopoldo Ical said at least 100 people were in the area when the landslide buried more than 1km of highway on Sunday.

More than 800 people from the tiny Mayan mountain villages of Aquil Grande and Aquil Pequeno were evacuated on Monday to a nearby village in case more landslides occur.

Ten unidentified bodies were buried at the local cemetery after no one claimed them.

Sunday’s landslide, triggered by a geological fault, brought thousands of tonnes of rock crashing down on a road in a remote area near the small indigenous town of San Cristobal Verapaz, about 200km north of Guatemala City.

“There was no damage to any coffee crops,” said Blanca Castro, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s coffee growers association.

Arvizu said the search for the remaining bodies could resume later in the week if rockfalls in the area ceased.

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