Guatemala Death Toll Rises

A Mayan family evacuates the flooded area in Tecpan, some 100 km (62 miles) west of Guatemala City, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005. According to Guatemala's National Disaster Emergency Agency, 2,200 evacuees in the affected areas were receiving refuge in community shelters. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Rescue workers in Guatemala said they pulled at least 40 bodies from a massive mudslide and found 20 more dead in a swollen river Thursday, raising to at least 231 the number of people killed from five days of pounding rains in Central America and Mexico.

Officials expected the death to toll to climb as they searched for more than 150 others who were missing following the landslide in Solola, a town close to Lake Atitlan, 60 miles west of the capital, Guatemala City.

Along the country's Pacific coast, the Nahualate River broke from its banks, creating a new outlet to the sea and killing at least 20 people from a small, seaside village, navy officials said.

Claudio Manchinel, from Iztapa in coastal, southern Guatemala, was forced to walk for hours through rain and mud with his pregnant wife, Leticia. Upon reaching a highway, the couple stopped an ambulance, which took them to a naval base, where their son Claudio was born Wednesday.

Manchinel said the flooding reminded him of Hurricane Mitch, which killed at least 9,000 people throughout Central America in 1998.

"We thought it was going to be like Mitch in 1998," he said Thursday. "But now it's worse."

The recovery of the bodies pushed the number killed in the region to 231, including 14 victims earlier this week in Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, and 13 victims who died in three southern Mexican states.

The current death toll in Guatemala is 139, with the majority of the victims killed in landslides.

For the first time in five days, rains let up Thursday, allowing Guatemalan President Oscar Berger to fly over devastated areas and evaluate damage.

He asked Congress to declare a state of emergency as rescue workers in Solola reported that two other villages had been buried by landslides, including Las Giraldas, 55 miles west of Guatemala City. There, more than a dozen people were working to dig out houses buried when a second hillside collapsed.

In Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second largest city 125 miles west of the capital, flood waters rose up 6.5 feet high, destroying hundreds of homes, businesses and public buildings, firefighters said.

More than 24,000 people from 270 communities took refuge in shelters throughout Guatemala, but were suffering from cold and a lack of food and water, according to Guatemalan radio reports. Quetzaltenango residents reported a similarly critical situation.

"It was complicated arriving with new shipments of food" because of the bad weather, said Agriculture Minister Alvaro Aguilar. "Today, we are making an effort" to reach the areas by air.

Guatemalan rescue workers also were trying to restore access to 300 roadways blocked by fallen trees, flooding and landslides.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for