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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK
Guatemala villages 'mass graves'
A woman mourns in Panabaj, Guatemala

Officials in Guatemala are calling for a number of remote communities to be declared mass graves, after they were engulfed by landslides.

Rescue efforts were suspended in some areas on Sunday after it was deemed too dangerous to dig for survivors.

More than 650 people in Guatemala have been confirmed dead in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Stan. Hundreds more are thought to be missing.

At least 100 people have died elsewhere in Central America and in Mexico.

Stan slammed ashore as a category one hurricane in southern Mexico on Tuesday. It quickly lost force, but most of the damage has been done by torrential rains lasting days on end.

Army and civil defence workers reached some remote communities including the western township of Tacana, near the Mexican border, on Sunday.

We are asking that [Panabaj] be declared a cemetery - we are tired, we no longer know where to dig
Diego Esquina
Mayor of Panabaj

But Guatemalan Vice-President Eduardo Stein said rescuers had still not been able to reach at least 90 villages cut off by mudslides.

Some estimates said as many as 1,400 people were feared buried.

Two Mayan villages in the worst affected area have been completely submerged by a slick of mud.

'Worse than Mitch'

Diego Esquina, the mayor of Panabaj, said his village "will no longer exist".

"We are asking that it be declared a cemetery. We are tired, we no longer know where to dig," he said.

"The bodies are so rotten that they can no longer be identified. They will only bring disease."

Some 77 bodies have been recovered from Panabaj, but about 250 are still missing, the mayor said.

KNOWN DEATH TOLL
Guatemala - 652
El Salvador - 71
Mexico - 17
Nicaragua - 10
Honduras - 4
Costa Rica - 2

Nearby Tzanchaj was similarly devastated.

Firefighters said they had had to order villagers to give up their desperate digging on unstable ground.

"Most of the people are where the mud is thickest and we haven't been able to work there because of the danger," said firefighter Max Chiquito.

Correspondents say the Mayan villagers are struggling with a dilemma, as local cultural traditions dictate that bodies must be recovered and given a decent burial.

Not far from Panabaj, in Santiago Atitlan, on the shores of Lake Atitlan, an area popular with Western tourists, wooden coffins were stacked in the municipal cemetery waiting for burial.

Images from Guatemala and Mexico as they struggle to cope with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Stan

"Entire families have disappeared," local official Diego Sojuel told the Associated Press news agency.

Taxi driver Gaspar Taxachoy returned from working in Guatemala City to discover his home buried in mud.

The bodies of his wife, two daughters and a son have been found. "I'm only missing one more son," he told AP.

The BBC's Claire Marshall, in Mexico, says it is the region's poorest people who have been worst hit, with precariously-built hillside communities drowned by the mudslides.

Colombia and the US have said they will send food, blankets and first aid equipment to help victims in Central America and Mexico.

After Guatemala, El Salvador has suffered greatest loss of life, with at least 71 confirmed deaths.

Map of Central America and southern Mexico




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