Storm Victims' Remains Exhumed in Guatemala

Regional Map of Guatemala i i

Enlarge this image to locate the village of Panabaj in Guatemala. Scott Stroud, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Stroud, NPR
Regional Map of Guatemala

 

Scott Stroud, NPR

Unearthing the Future

A little more than a year after Hurricane Stan devastated the Mayan village of Panabaj, a group is working to exhume and identify the remains of victims buried in a mudslide caused by the storm.

Before the mudslide, there were more than 50 homes in the village. Now, the houses and hundreds of the people who lived in them are 10 feet underground. Along the edges of the site, makeshift memorials stand as monuments to the dead.

In October 2005, Hurricane Stan activated a mudslide that wiped out Panabaj. A 30-foot-high wave of rock, trees, and wet earth rushed down the mountain, carving a path nearly 200 feet wide.

The Guatemalan government cordoned off the zone as a high-risk area, and had no plans to recover the dead. But survivors resisted and joined with the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) to unearth the victims.

For more than a decade, the FAFG has exhumed mass graves from political massacres that took place during Guatemala's decades-long civil war. This time, they are working in the wake of a natural disaster.

The country's army has offered to help with the exhumation, but the mudslide survivors have refused. The military killed 13 unarmed civilians in Panabaj in 1990.

Along with tractors to clear the 400,000 square-foot mudslide site, FAFG is using mapping software and other technology to create a secure database on the remains.

As of Jan. 24, workers have uncovered 74 bodies and identified 52. They believe there may be 300 to 500 bodies in all.

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