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Families mourn as death toll climbs in Guatemala landslides

By the CNN Wire Staff
Relatives of missing people wait Sunday in Solola, west of Guatemala City, near the site of a recent landslide.
Relatives of missing people wait Sunday in Solola, west of Guatemala City, near the site of a recent landslide.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Emergency officials report 46 dead and more than 50,000 people affected
  • One family mourns four dead
  • About 11,500 people have been evacuated and 9,000 are living in shelters
  • The president says some 263 people have died this year in Guatemala as a result of rain

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Nahuala, Guatemala (CNN) -- Officials say at least 46 people were buried in two landslides here. Four of them were Carlos Coti's family members.

"They left behind 20 orphans, because each one had 4, 5 or 6 children they left," he said.

The first landslide knocked a number of vehicles and a bus off the road. When nearby residents rushed to the scene to help, a second mudslide crashed down on the same spot, the nation's disaster agency said.

Constant rains have forced rescue crews to stop and restart their searches for the missing, as anxious family members look on. CNN video shows men, dressed in rain-jackets, digging through the thick mud with shovels and then later carrying bodies on stretchers.

Disaster officials report that torrential rains and landslides have left at least 46 people dead, 56 injured, and 16 missing. On Monday, President Alvaro Colom declared three days of national mourning.

Video: Mudslides cause havoc in Guatemala
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"The firefighters and rescue teams are working with the government's equipment so that we can come out of this human tragedy," Colom said as he visited one landslide site.

Around 11,500 residents have been evacuated and 9,000 have taken refuge in shelters, the nation's disaster agency said. More than 50,000 people have been affected by the punishing rain, said to be the strongest in 60 years.

Over the weekend, authorities closed parts of the Inter-American Highway after rains washed out sections of the road and caused at least two accidents.

Thousands of homes, in addition to infrastructure and fields of crops, also were damaged by the heavy rains.

The torrential downpours come several months after more than 150 people died when Tropical Storm Agatha hit Guatemala in May.

Destruction from that storm was widespread throughout the nation, with mudslides destroying homes and buildings and burying some victims. At least nine rivers had dramatically higher levels and 13 bridges collapsed, Guatemala's emergency services agency said.

The May downpours created a sinkhole the size of a street intersection in northern Guatemala City. Residents told CNN that a three-story building and a house fell into the hole.

Roughly 263 people have died in Guatemala so far this year as a result of rain, the president said.

Journalist Alexia Rios Hayashi contributed to this report.

 
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