GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemala has ended rescue operations at the site of a huge landslide believed to have killed scores of people in Queja village during tropical storm Eta last week, the country’s national disaster agency CONRED said on Tuesday.
Storm Eta’s torrential downpours toppled trees, engorged swift-moving rivers, and ripped down parts of a mountainside above the village of Queja in the central Guatemalan region of Alta Verapaz, burying people in their homes.
President Alejandro Giammattei on Friday indicated up to 150 people could have been buried in the Queja landslide but CONRED’s own figures show eight confirmed deaths in Queja, while another 88 people are missing in the village.
“Today in the morning the decision was made to suspend the search due to soil saturation,” CONRED spokesman David de Leon told Reuters, referring to the dangerous soil conditions for excavation teams on the ground.
Alberto Ical, a community leader in Queja, said the villagers want to continue with the search as the local custom is to observe the bodies of the dead family members before burying them.
“I don’t want the bodies to stay there,” said Ical, who told the surviving Queja residents that CONRED will not permit the search to go on.
“What we want is to continue searching and be able to locate everyone, although we know that it will not be possible,” he added.
Nationally, the confirmed death toll from Eta stood at 44 and there were 99 missing people across Guatemala, according to CONRED figures.
The devastating weather front caused by Eta was one of the worst storms to hit Central America in years, spreading destruction from Panama to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico.
(This story corrects typo in headline)
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