Weeping families lit candles for relatives buried in a massive landslide in Guatemala that killed at least 87 people and left another 300 missing feared dead as final, desperate rescue efforts to recover bodies began on Sunday.
A few miles from the hillside that came crashing down onto the town of Santa Caterina Pinula on Thursday night, Reginaldo Gomez stood by the body of his young grandson Andres, who lay garlanded with flowers in a small coffin lined with satin.
The four-year-old boy’s mother and sister are among those still missing among the mounds of earth, shattered buildings and personal belongings scattered on the valley floor.
About 300 people are believed to be missing, officials said on Sunday, and the rescue teams that have pulled 87 corpses from the earth and rubble have found no survivors this weekend.
“Andres was a happy, sweet, mischievous child but he isn’t here anymore. He isn’t here and we have to stay here without them,” said his grandmother Angela in the modest home where family members gathered to mourn him.
The tragedy on the southeastern flank of Guatemala City was not the first blow to strike the family. Reginaldo said he became a pastor following the death of two other children in an accident some years ago.
“When I lost my two sons, I wanted to die. I even tried to kill myself and thought I’d never be able to move on. That’s why I can face my sorrow now,” he said. “I weep and I suffer like Jesus Christ, but I know it’s part of God’s grand plan.”
The El Cambray II neighborhood battered by the landslide on Thursday night lies at the bottom of a deep ravine ringed by trees.
Authorities had warned about risks of building homes in El Cambray II, which was founded in 1999. However, like many others in the impoverished Central American country with a history of catastrophic landslides, the neighborhood kept on growing.
In 2005, hundreds of people were killed when torrential rains triggered a landslide that buried the village of Panabaj. Many of the bodies were never recovered.
The question of how to avoid these disasters has reared up just as Guatemala is preparing to elect a new president in a second round run-off on Oct. 25.
The government has been in disarray for months. President Otto Perez was forced to resign and was arrested on corruption charges last month, with his former vice president Alejandro Maldonado stepping in until the election winner takes office.
The relatives of some of those killed in the latest tragedy said they were grateful they were at least been able to bury their loved ones.
“I feel lucky because other families can’t even cry over their dead,” said Alejandro Lopez, a 45-year-old taxi driver, who recovered the bodies of two daughters and a grandson.
“But I would like to find the mother of my daughters,” he said inside a small Evangelical church near Santa Catarina.