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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 1 April, 2003, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Rain hampers landslide rescuers
Rescue workers are struggling to reach victims buried by a landslide in northern Bolivia, in which dozens of people are feared dead.

A mudslide on Monday crushed dozens of homes in the gold-mining village of Chima - with the area declared a disaster zone by President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

At least 14 people have been killed and more than 100 are still missing, according to the Associated Press news agency.

The Bolivian Information Ministry said six critically ill victims had been taken for treatment in the capital, La Paz, while others had been taken to hospital in Tipuani, 100 kilometres (60 miles) away.

Inaccessible

Rescue attempts, including assistance from the United States embassy, have been hampered by heavy rain and the difficulty in getting digging equipment to the village, which is 10 hours drive from the capital along a difficult road.

The prefect of La Paz Province, Mateo Laura Canqui, is leading a rescue mission but says: "It's still too early to estimate the level of damage. We simply have had no contact with the town."

Communications have been almost completely severed and residents have been talking to rescuers via radio.

There were earlier reports of up to 700 people missing - but La Paz province security chief Oscar Nina said that these had been "exaggerated".

About 150 homes are believed to have been buried, in a village with a population of an estimated 1,200 families.

'Tragedy'

Local mining official Jose Plata told local radio it was hard to estimate the number of victims as everything had been submerged by the landslide.

"We have suffered a tragedy this morning, the losses are impossible to calculate," he said.

Mr Plata also said that the landslide had buried much of the local miners' equipment.

Stones and mud covered an area where many of the houses in the village once stood, he added.

Regional government officials said that the disaster may have been caused by gold-mining operations that weakened a nearby mountain.

Pope John Paul II has expressed his sorrow over the tragedy and has sent his condolences to the region, Italian news reports said.




SEE ALSO:
Bolivia counts storm damage
01 Mar 02  |  Americas
Bolivia quake toll rises
22 May 98  |  Americas
Country profile: Bolivia
11 Mar 03  |  Country profiles


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