Guatemalan mudslide death toll reaches 56, hundreds missing

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Frantic Search for 200 Missing After Guatemala Landslide

SANTA CATARINA PINULA, Guatemala (AP) — Rescue workers using shovels and pickaxes recovered more bodies from the rubble of a collapsed hillside on the outskirts of Guatemala City on Saturday as an official said the death toll had risen to 56 with another 350 people believed missing.

Julio Sanchez, spokesman for Guatemala's volunteer firefighters, said the death toll will likely continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth that buried some 125 homes Thursday night in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula. Earlier estimates had said that 600 people could be missing.

Despite the passing time, emergency services coordinator Sergio Cabanas said rescuers "still have hope of finding people alive if we just keep searching."

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Guatemalan mudslide death toll reaches 56, hundreds missing
A fireman carries the body of a child recovered from the site of a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. Family members have reported 100 people missing, but the number could be as high as 600 based on at least 100 homes in the area of the slide, said Alejandro Maldonado, executive secretary of Conred, the country's emergency disaster agency. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
A fireman comforts a dog rescued from the site of a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
A resident, hauling some of his belongings, watches rescue efforts after a landslide hit Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Rescue workers carry survivor Rony Pu, rescued from the site of a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Rescue workers carry survivor Rony Pu, rescued from the site of a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Rescue workers search for survivors after a landslide hit Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
A body is pulled from under the dirt by rescue workers after a mudslide in Santa Catarina Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Heavy rain triggered a hillside to collapse on several of homes. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
A resident holds onto her photo album that she recovered from her home, damaged when hit by a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Men pray during rescue efforts at the site of a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Rescue workers respond after a mudslide in Santa Catarina Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Heavy rain provoked a hillside to collapse, affecting dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Rescue workers carry survivor Rony Pu, rescued from the site of a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
A rescue worker and resident dig into the earth in search of survivors after a mudslide in Santa Catarina Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Heavy rain triggered a hillside to collapse on several homes. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Residents watch rescue efforts after a mudslide hit Santa Catarina Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Heavy rain provoked a hillside to collapse on dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Rescue workers pick up shovels during rescue efforts for survivors after a mudslide in Santa Catarina Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Heavy rain provoked a hillside to collapse on dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Rescue workers search for survivors of a mudslide in Santa Catarina Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Heavy rain triggered a hillside to collapse on several of homes. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Firemen carry a body recovered from the site of a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
A resident holds up a photo of his neighbors to show rescue workers during a search for survivors at the site of a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. Family members have reported 100 people missing, but the number could be as high as 600 based on at least 100 homes in the area of the slide, said Alejandro Maldonado, executive secretary of Conred, the country's emergency disaster agency. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Rescue workers and firemen search for survivors at the the site of a landslide in Cambray, a neighborhood in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over Cambray collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Friends and relatives wait for information outside a provisional morgue where the bodies recovered from the site of a landslide have been taken, in the suburb of Santa Catarina Pinula, about 10 miles east of Guatemala City, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. The hill that towers over the Santa Catarina Pinula neighborhood known as Cambray, collapsed late Thursday after heavy rains, burying several houses with dirt, mud and rocks. (AP Photo/Oliver de Ros)
Volunteer firemen carry a body recovered from the mud and debris after a landslide late Thursday, following heavy rains, covered part of the village of El Cambray II, in Santa Catarina Pinula municipality, some 15 km east of Guatemala City, on October 2, 2015. At least nine people were killed and about 600 others missing following a landslide that damaged some 125 homes on the outskirts of the Guatemalan capital, an official said Friday, noting that the death toll could rise as rescue efforts continue. AFP PHOTO / JOHAN ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Rony Pu is rescued alive after a landslide at Cambray village, in Santa Catarina Pinula municipality, Guatemala on October 2, 2015. The landslide destroyed 60 houses killing at least seven people and injurering 25. An unquantified missing people were reported. AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZAFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers carry a children victim of a landslide at Cambray village, in Santa Catarina Pinula municipality, Guatemala on October 2, 2015. At least seven people are dead and about 100 others missing following a landslide that damaged some 125 homes on the outskirts of the Guatemalan capital, an official said Friday. AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers and residents search for victims after a landslide at the village of El Cambray II, in Santa Catarina Pinula municipality, some 15 km east of Guatemala City, on October 2, 2015. At least seven people are dead and about 100 others missing following a landslide that damaged some 125 homes on the outskirts of the Guatemalan capital, an official said Friday. AFP PHOTO / JOHAN ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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At the site, workers with dogs labored without rest, halting only when a long whistle sounded, testing if anyone was still alive under the mud and debris.

"We're from the rescue unit," one worker announced. "If there is someone there, please make some noise or yell."

When no response was heard, two more long whistles sounded, a sign that the workers should continue digging.

Cabanas said he had been contacted by several people who reported receiving messages on their cellphones from family members trapped under the rubble. He said authorities had not seen the reported text messages, but had asked local telephone companies to try to map out the places where the messages were sent from.

Highlighting the horror faced by rescuers, Sanchez said that officials had arrived at the death toll of 56 by counting body parts, such as heads and torsos.

Later Saturday, hopes began to fade among rescue workers.

"Given the time that has passed, the truth is there is little hope" of finding survivors, said Ines de Leon or the Volunteer Firefighters Rescue Brigade of Retalhuleu province. "Only a miracle can save them."

Among those mourning the loss of their relatives on Saturday was Nehemias Gonzalez, who seemed to have run out of tears. He lost his 21-year-old wife, Masiel Alexandra, and their 2-year-old child, Angel Efrain.

Gonzalez said he was working at his job at a McDonald's restaurant when the landslide occurred. He said he usually left work at 11 p.m., but that day he was given extra chores and didn't leave until 4 a.m. Friday. It wasn't until then that he learned about the disaster.

"The last thing she said when I called her on the telephone in the afternoon was that she loved me," Gonzalez said, looking down at the ground. "I love her, too."

Also at the site was Haroldo Perez, who traveled with four other relatives from San Marcos, about 177 miles (285 kilometers) west of the capital. Armed with shovels, they were searching for his 36-year-old sister Mary Perez, a secretary they had not heard from since the mudslide.

The dead were being brought to an improvised morgue where weeping relatives identified the bodies. The dead included Quani Bonilla, 18, who played on the national squash team.

Also among the bodies, rescuers found a mother embracing her two girls, said Carlos Turcios, a doctor who saw them when he came to help the rescue.

The hill that towers over Cambray, about 10 miles (15 kilometers) east of Guatemala City, partly collapsed onto a 200-foot (60-meter) stretch of the hamlet just before midnight, burying an estimated 125 homes.

Raul Rodas, an assistant village mayor, said about 150 families had lived in the area where the mudslide occurred.

Some of the untouched homes in Cambray, which sits on the edge of a small river, were abandoned by their owners for fear of further mudslides.

Homemaker Dulce del Carmen Lavarenzo Pu said she had just returned from church Thursday evening when the ground shook and she heard a terrible noise. A wave of mud slid from the nearby mountainside and buried everything just 150 feet (50 meters) from her house.

"Everything went black, because the lights went out," the 28-year-old said. "Ash and dust were falling, so we left the house. You couldn't see anything."

Her cousin was among those killed when the rain-sodden hillside about 300 feet (100 meters) high had collapsed onto her neighborhood.

Marleni Pu, 25, stood Friday at the edge of the mudslide, her face swollen with weeping.

"My uncles, my cousins, my nieces and nephews are all there," she said, looking across the field of debris where about two dozen relatives had lived. "Six houses where my relatives lived are all under the hillside now."

Searchers dug out her relative, Rony Ramos, 23, who was rescued from a home near the edge of mudflow. But at its center, the landslide buried houses under a layer of rocks and earth as much as 50 feet (15 meters) deep. He had apparently been trapped in an air pocket, face down and unable to move.

"When our personnel were searching through the rubble, they heard a voice," said rescue worker Cecilio Chacaj. "They located the man, who was buried about two meters (six feet) under rubble." He said rescuers worked frantically for five hours with jackhammers and saws to free Ramos.

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