Scores feared dead in fresh landslide overnight as heavy rains force authorities to suspend rescue operations.
The collapse of a hillside onto a town on the edge of Guatemala City has killed at least 69 people and left hundreds missing, as rescue crews continued to search for survivors in homes buried by dirt and sludge.
Loosened by heavy rains, tonnes of dirt and trees tumbled onto Santa Catarina Pinula in a valley on the southeastern flank of the capital late on Thursday, flattening dozens of flimsy houses when many residents had gone home for the night.
Diggers ploughed into the mounds of earth that destroyed homes after authorities said that as many as 600 people were unaccounted for after Thursday night’s disaster.
Twenty-six people were reported as injured.
An aerial video broadcast aired on Guatemalan media showed the tree-lined hillside laid bare above a huge mound of earth, foliage and debris that completely covered part of the town, which hugs the side of a river in a deep ravine.
Scores of rescue workers laboured through dusk to recover bodies from the tangle of mangled walls, beds and furniture churned up in the landslide.
Alejandro Maldonado, head of Guatemalan disaster agency CONRED, told a news conference on Friday that as many as 600 could still be missing after the disaster, which he said hit 125 homes.
“I feel like I’ve lost my loved ones because all my neighbours died,” said survivor Melina Hidalgo, 35.
She was washing clothes when there was a loud crash and the lights went out.
She found neighbouring houses covered in soil and mud.
Felled electricity poles were giving off sparks and crying people searched for children, Hidalgo said.
Guatemalan media reported rescuers heard voices under collapsed buildings and earth as they struggled to dig people out.
The landslide was one of the worst in recent memory in the impoverished Central American country.
Marta Guitz, 37, returned from work to find her house buried and was unable to reach Dany, her 17-year-old son, who she believed was inside.
“My husband is there now shovelling through soil to find our son,” the domestic worker said as tears welled.
Oscar Raul de Leon and his family abandoned their home and he looked for his cousin, but all he found were the remains of the relative’s home.
Around 1,800 soldiers, firemen and neighbours helped with the rescue efforts, according to David de Leon, a spokesman for CONRED, who said some homes had been buried under about 15 metres of earth.
The government said 600 people were helping sift through the rubble to pull out survivors while authorities set up a shelter to help people made homeless.