At least 34 people were killed at around 11am on Sunday morning in the village of Santa Elena Ajquil in San Cristóbal Verapaz, Alta Verapaz in the north of Guatemala after a landslide buried a group of coffee industry workers on the road that runs from San Cristobal Verapaz to Chicaman.
The 1.5km wide naturally occurring landslide loosened more than 10,000 tonnes of mud and fragmented rock which tumbled down to the road below, where coffee labourers were at work.
Rescue efforts by municipal firemen, the Guatemalan Red Cross, the national civil police and the National Coordinator for the Reduction of Disasters (CONRED) continue and the authorities fear that the number of fatalities will rise as there were 140 people in the area at the time of the incident, and 60 missing have yet to be found.
These intensive endeavours are being impeded by further rockfalls and recent poor weather conditions in Alta Verapaz, 200km north of the capital, Guatemala City. Deputy Minister of Public Works Wilfredo Garcia says that rescue workers are “taking every precaution” but it has been impossible to get heavy machinery into the area.
The Guatemalan vice president Rafael Espada says that his government will help victims’ families with funeral costs, but according to national newspaper Prensa Libre some bodies are so badly mutilated it is nearly impossible to identify them.
The same area was hit by a rockfall last month, killing at least two people. In order to prevent future casualties from major landslides, the authorities plan to initiate a series of controlled explosions to alleviate loose rock.