Friday 19 January 2018

Funerals begin of mudslide victims as hundreds still missing

Ismael Estrada, centre, prays over the coffin of his son Amilcar at the Santa Catarina Pinula cemetery (AP)
Ismael Estrada, centre, prays over the coffin of his son Amilcar at the Santa Catarina Pinula cemetery (AP)

Ismael Estrada buried a son and a granddaughter swept away in a Guatemala mudslide that killed at least 131 people and left as many as 300 missing.

More than 200 people followed the funeral procession for his son, Amilcar, 38, and granddaughter, Maria Jose, 10, whose casket was draped in white with ribbons of white crepe paper.

But for the 59-year-old carpenter-painter, the funeral on Sunday was only the beginning. As soon as it ended, he headed back to the morgue to keep searching.

He was still missing 19 family members, including all 14 of his grandchildren, ages one to 15.

"It's hard. I can't believe it," said Mr Estrada, who has gi ven up hope of finding any of them alive.

"A lot of time has passed ... They're working with heavy equipment from above and there's a lot of dirt," Mr Estrada said. "I just want to find them so I can bury them."

He did not live in the Cambray neighbourhood, where the hillside collapsed on Thursday night and covered some 125 homes with about 4 acres of mud and dirt as deep as 15 yards.

"When I went to visit, all my grandkids would come looking for me," he said. "I'd spend time with some, and then with others. They were my happiness, and it's giving me terrible pain."

Hope faded for many families Sunday they would find survivors, as the smell of rotting bodies spread across the enormous mound of earth.

Rescuers reported the buried dwellings they reached were filled with water, suggesting anyone trapped inside would have drowned

In the cemetery, city workers rapidly prepared crypts in a large mausoleum wall for the dead for the day-long procession of coffins and people.

By late in the day, 36 new crypts had been bricked shut, with names etched in the new cement covering the masonry.

In the makeshift morgue, where Red Cross volunteers and rescuers worked at folding tables under tents, at least 100 people waited in line to find their loved ones.

Press Association

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