Guatemala treats some landslide areas as cemeteries with hundreds feared buried alive

Guatemalan settlements buried under rivers of mud will be abandoned and declared graveyards, leaders of the worst-hit towns said Sunday, as they stopped most efforts to dig out the rotted bodies of what they fear to be about 250 people still encased in the mud flows.

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Scores of foreign tourists were evacuated on foot and by helicopter from towns cut off by mudslides on the shores of Lake Atitlan, after a week of intense rain linked to Hurricane Stan that left more than 770 confirmed deaths and hundreds of missing in Central America and Mexico.

"Panabaj will no longer exist," said Mayor Diego Esquina, referring to the Maya lakeside hamlet covered by a half-mile wide mudflow as much as 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) thick. "We are asking that it be declared a cemetery. We are tired, we no longer know where to dig."

"The bodies are so rotted that they can no longer be identified. They will only bring disease," said Esquina, who noted that about 250 people are missing in Panabaj, part of the national total of 384 missing.

Many of the missing apparently will simply be declared dead, and the ground they rest in declared hallowed ground. About 160 bodies have been recovered in Panabaj and nearby towns, and most have been buried in mass graves.

Promised sniffer dogs trained to detect bodies failed to arrive in time, and "we don't even know where to dig anymore" in the immensity of the mudflows," Esquina said.

Hundreds of Mayan villagers who had swarmed over the vast mudslides with shovels, picks and axes to dig for victims in previous days gave up their efforts Sunday, overwhelmed by the task.

Nationwide in Guatemala, 652 bodies have been recovered and reburied. Vice President Eduardo Stein said steps were being taken to give towns "legal permission to declare the buried areas cemeteries" as "a sanitary measure."

As aid workers penetrated into the most remote areas, reports began to trickle in of death in strange and terrible forms, reports the AP.


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