Mudslides Kill Hundreds in Guatemala

Spanish rescue workers use a search dog to look for mudslide survivors. i

Spanish rescue workers use a search dog to look for mudslide survivors in Panabaj, Guatemala, Oct. 9, 2005. The firefighters were unable to find signs of life at the site. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters
Spanish rescue workers use a search dog to look for mudslide survivors.

Spanish rescue workers use a search dog to look for mudslide survivors in Panabaj, Guatemala, Oct. 9, 2005. The firefighters were unable to find signs of life at the site.

Reuters

Weeks of rain have brought on mudslides throughout Central America. Guatemala is the hardest hit country with more than 600 people dead and hundreds more missing.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Nearly a week after Hurricane Stan, more than 650 people are dead and hundreds more are missing across Central America and southern Mexico. The hardest hit country is Guatemala where more than 500 bodies have been recovered. The country's emergency services say the actual death toll could be more than 3,000. Fact is, more than 100 communities are cut off by mudslides and flooding. Lorenda Reddekopp reports.

LORENDA REDDEKOPP reporting:

The cleanup effort is slow. Large construction equipment is almost useless in some areas. The mud is too deep. Villagers have to push this machine to keep it from getting stuck. In the village of Panabaj near Lake Atitlan, the mud is making it impossible for family members to find their loved ones. A mudslide buried people and houses. The village may be declared a mass grave site.

Across the country, fast muddy rivers have destroyed bridges, homes and highways. In the western highlands town of Olintepeque, many have lost everything, and people can only cross the weakened bridges by foot. Mayor Cruz Chavez(ph) says that with problems in much of Guatemala, help could take a while. His eyes tear up as he talks about what people here are living through.

Mayor CRUZ CHAVEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

REDDEKOPP: He says the hardest thing is to see his people with tears, with sadness at having abandoned homes that took 20 or 25 years to afford to build. `They've lost them in a second,' he says. `This is what makes me saddest,' he adds.

In the nearby city of Quetzaltenango, emergency centers have opened in schools and other buildings. Yvonne Jimenez(ph) had nowhere else to go. Food, clothing, furniture, everything she owned was destroyed. She'll likely be out of a job, too. The restaurant she works in was also underwater.

Ms. YVONNE JIMENEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

REDDEKOPP: She cries as she explains that they need people to help and she says this isn't the first time for a tragedy like this here, referring to Hurricane Mitch. But already the effects of Hurricane Stan in Guatemala are even worse than Mitch in 1998. Government officials say it could take a year to fix all the roads. Osman Rossil is with the Justice Pastoral(ph), a Catholic human rights organization. He compares the problem here to another hurricane in New Orleans. Rossil says it'll be years before Guatemala recovers.

Mr. OSMAN ROSSIL (Justice Pastoral): Who cares who's in US and who cares who was in Guatemala, it was the same picture. The same picture. Just the signs was help is in USA, and here is, like Ayuda. There is a rich country. We don't have anything here, but it's the same picture.

(Soundbite of vehicle)

REDDEKOPP: In the western highlands, the rains continue. Some communities in the region have been cut off from the rest of the country. All roads have been destroyed. Eduardo Stein is the country's vice president. He says rain and fog mean getting to those areas is still impossible.

Vice President EDUARDO STEIN BARILLAS (Guatemala): (Foreign language spoken)

REDDEKOPP: He says that unfortunately changes to the weather are extremely slow and that's making air access incredibly difficult, and that difficulty will likely continue today. The weather isn't expected to improve until tomorrow. For NPR News, I'm Lorenda Reddekopp in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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