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Last Updated:  Thursday, 3 April, 2003, 06:47 GMT 07:47 UK
Hope fades for mudslide victims
A bulldozer tries to clear mud and debris
Help was slow to reach the devastated village
A desperate search is continuing for survivors in a remote gold mining village in Bolivia which was buried by a landslide on Monday.

Local people have been using picks, shovels and their bare hands to look for loved ones, but hopes of finding anyone alive are fading fast.

So far, 17 bodies have been recovered in the village of Chima but it is still not clear how many are missing - the authorities now estimate that between 200 and 400 people may have died.

There had been heavy rains in the area but some survivors are blaming the local mining co-operative for triggering the avalanche of mud by using dynamite to excavate.

Help was slow to reach the region because rescue teams sent from La Paz had to make a 12-hour journey along treacherous roads to get to Chima.

But heavy equipment, including bulldozers and excavators, has now reached the village, located some 250 kilometres north (160 miles) of La Paz.

The United States embassy also lent four helicopters and an airplane to help the search, while specialised French and Spanish rescue teams with sniffer dogs were also expected to join the search.

Children lost

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

The bodies of four residents lie in a makeshift morgue
The painful search for both the dead and living continues
Excavators are being used particularly on the banks of the Tipuani river where a large number of children were panning for gold when the landslide happened.

No one knows exactly how many people were buried when the hillside above the village, which has been mined by gold prospectors for decades, gave way.

The first reports of 700 dead have been described as "exaggerated".

The local mining co-operative, to which many of the prospectors belong, initially put the number of dead at 50, in what looked like an attempt to downplay the tragedy.

Some residents are accusing the co-operative for the disaster, saying it had been using dynamite to dig for gold.

"This is not a natural disaster. It is the group which has put in detonators, some packets of bombs that have shaken the town," one resident told Reuters television.

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Country profile: Bolivia
11 Mar 03  |  Country profiles

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