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Guatemala search called off after threat of more landslides

  • Story Highlights
  • Landslide in Guatemala leaves 35 dead and 30 missing
  • Authorities call off search operations due to threat of more landslides
  • Official says, "Strong excavation could provoke more risk of life"
  • Six injured people remain hospitalized; about 800 villagers evacuated to shelters
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GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (CNN) -- The threat of further landslides forced Guatemalan authorities to call off search operations at a remote disaster site where 35 people were killed and another 30 remained missing, a government official said Tuesday.

In addition, about 800 people from the village of Aquil Grande were evacuated to 28 nearby shelters, said disaster agency spokesman Hugo Arbizu.

Search officials determined that the bodies recovered from Sunday's landslide were buried under easier-to-access areas and the remaining corpses are under heavy rocks and deep dirt that would require extensive work to remove.

"Strong excavation could provoke more risk of life," Arbizu said.

Six injured people remained hospitalized, though none are critical, the spokesman said.

One of the injured men spoke from his hospital bed.

"According to the information they gave me last night, my brother died, Jose Alfredo Perez Mendoza," the unidentified man said Tuesday on Canal 7 Guatemala TV. "And another brother I don't know anything about."

A landslide in the same location in northwest Guatemala killed two people December 14.

Sunday's landslide at the Los Chorros mountain blocked more than a half-mile of road between Chicaman and San Cristobal Verapaz. Video Watch scenes from the disaster site »

The tragedy occurred when travelers got out of a truck and started to walk across a path below the part of the road blocked by the previous landslide, Arbizu said. Around 11:30 a.m., more than 10 tons of dirt and rock fell on them.

After the earlier landslide, geologists declared that stretch of road a high-risk area, and nearby residents reported hearing occasional rumblings. Any type of travel over that segment had been prohibited, Arbizu said.

An alternate route will be constructed at a cost of 20 million Guatemalan quetzales, or $2.57 million, Canal 7 said.

Officials also are trying to resolve what to do with the evacuated families and are helping them with food, water and other provisions, Arbizu said.

Vice President Rafael Espada toured the site Monday, accompanied by Alejandro Maldonado, head of the national agency for the reduction of disasters, and Health Minister Celso Cerezo, the Prensa Libre newspaper said.

Espada said the government would help families with funeral costs, but it was difficult to identify some bodies because they were so badly mutilated. The Verapaz funeral home, which is in charge of arrangements, received 60,000 quetzales, or $7,700, from the government, the newspaper said Tuesday.

Some bodies had to be buried immediately, without wakes or memorial services, because of their high state of decomposition, Leopoldo Ical Jul, the mayor of San Cristobal Verapaz, told Prensa Libre.

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The first rescuers on the scene described the devastation, even as they watched for further slides.

"When we arrived, we found a dramatic scene with many people crying for family members buried when they tried to cross," Jorge Bol of the volunteer fire department in San Cristobal Verapaz told the newspaper.

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