|At least 45 people were killed and dozens are missing after rain triggered landslides across Guatemala [EPA]|
Guatemala will hold a national day of mourning on Monday for the victims killed by more than 50 landslides across the country.
At least 44 people were killed over the weekend alone. Heavy rain in the past few days has unleashed mudslides in several towns, cutting off the main transportation arteries of the Central American nation.
Al Jazeera’s Martin Asturias, reporting from near the town of Santa Maria Ixtaguacan, said that 23 bodies have been pulled from the mud so far.
Those buried on Sunday were working to rescue victims of a previous landslide, which swept over a bus on Saturday and killed at least 12 people.
The government estimates that 37 people have died in the past two days of flood-triggered landslides, but the 12 people killed on Saturday, combined with the 23 bodies recovered from the second landslide, amounts to a death toll of 44 – a number that is likely to rise as more bodies are found.
Heavy rains on Sunday afternoon forced rescue work to be suspended until Monday, according to David de Leon, a spokesman for the national disaster response effort.
‘State of emergency’
Unrelenting rains and severe weather have hit Guatemala for weeks, in what the country’s president has called a “national tragedy”.
Alvaro Colom has declared a state of emergency and told citizens to stay off the nation’s highways to avoid more landslides.
The Inter-American Highway has been cut by more than 30 landslides in a 50km span. Guatemala’s national radio station reported that other landslides created a traffic jams up to 75km long.
The highway is now “practically closed”, Guatemala’s government said on Sunday. Week of heavy rains have caused flooding that has affected some 40,000 people in the country.
At least four other people died in a house in western Quetzaltenango on Saturday after it collapsed due to a landslide – adding to weather-related deaths from Friday.
Latest reports say that more than 43,000 people are at risk.
“Top priority at present is dealing with this emergency. There are no funds left to deal with earlier disasters like the one caused by [tropical storm] Agatha,” in late May, Colom said on Saturday after touring some of the affected areas.