Guatemala has ended rescue operations at the site of a huge landslide believed to have killed dozens of people in Queja village during Tropical Storm Eta last week, the country’s National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED) agency has said.
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 that 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.
CONRED said it was suspending the search for bodies due to continued risks at the site in accordance with international protocols. Search teams had located eight victims before the effort was halted.
David de Leon, spokesman for the agency, said the area was very unstable and the soils saturated.
Alberto Ical, a community leader in Queja, told Reuters news agency 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.