Landslide areas to become cemeteries
Guatemalans give up the search for the missing in mudslides triggered by Hurricane Stan.
Published October 10, 2005
GUATEMALA CITY - Dozens of foreign tourists fled devastated lakeside Mayan towns on foot and by helicopter Sunday as Guatemalan officials said they would abandon communities buried by landslides and declare them mass graveyards.
Villagers who had swarmed over the vast mudslides with shovels and axes digging for hundreds of missing gave up the effort Sunday, five days after Hurricane Stan made landfall on the Gulf of Mexico coast, bringing torrential rains before weakening to a tropical depression.
More than 640 people died and hundreds more were missing across Central America and southern Mexico after a week of rains. In hardest-hit Guatemala, 519 bodies had been recovered and reburied. Some 338 were listed as missing.
"Panabaj will no longer exist," said Mayor Diego Esquina, referring to the Mayan lakeside hamlet in Guatemala covered by a half-mile-wide mudflow as much as 15 to 20 feet deep. "We are asking that it be declared a cemetery. We are tired. We no longer know where to dig."
Esquina said bodies were now so rotted that identification was impossible. He said about 250 people were missing in Panabaj. Only 77 bodies were recovered, he said.
Vice President Eduardo Stein said steps were being taken to give towns "legal permission to declare the buried areas" as hallowed ground.
Attention turned to aiding thousands of hungry or injured survivors as helicopters,including U.S. Black Hawks and Chinooks, fanned out across Guatemala to evacuate the wounded and bring supplies to more than 100 communities still cut off by mudslides and flooding.
In El Salvador, authorities reported 71 deaths from the rains, after two people where swept away by floodwaters in San Salvador on Saturday.
The rest of the dead were scattered throughout Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and southern Mexico.
[Last modified October 10, 2005, 04:49:22]
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