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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Rescuers end search in Guatemala
Mayan Indians walk through the mud in Panabaj, Guatemala

The search for survivors of Tropical Storm Stan has been called off in Guatemala, where the official death toll stands at 652.

But the figure could reach 2,000, as entire communities were engulfed by landslides and mud, officials say.

They say continuing the search is too risky and have called for a number of communities to be declared mass graves.

Another 131 people are known to have died elsewhere in Central America and Mexico as a result of the storm.

Stan slammed ashore as a hurricane in southern Mexico, but it lost force as it struck Central America. Most of the damage has been done by torrential rains lasting days on end.

Officials say that 42 people have died in Mexico, 72 in El Salvador and 11 in Nicaragua.

Health risk

In Guatemala, the threat of hunger and disease looms in areas still cut off by floodwaters and mudslides.

KNOWN DEATH TOLL
Guatemala - 652
El Salvador - 72
Mexico - 42
Nicaragua - 11
Honduras - 4
Costa Rica - 2

Crops, livelihoods and homes have been destroyed, and water sources compromised.

President Oscar Berger has said 130,000 people have been directly affected by the storm. More than 90,000 are still living in government shelters.

Two Mayan villages near the tourist resort of Lake Atitlan - Panabaj and Tzanchaj - were completely buried under an avalanche of mud and rock.

"The search has been definitively called off. The 1,400 declared missing in Panabaj are dead," a spokesman for volunteer firefighters told AFP news agency.

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

The town was also declared an area of high health risk by the Guatemalan Red Cross.

President Berger made his way to the site, which has become a vast mass grave. He had to wear a mask to protect himself against the stench of dead bodies.

"We came to share the pain of all those who lost loved ones," he told the press.

Nobel peace prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu also visited the town.

There has been controversy over the decision to abandon the search. Some want to keep on digging for their relatives but it has been decided that the risk is too great, both from further mudslides and from disease.

Aid appeal

The BBC's Claire Marshall in Guatemala says that getting aid to those who are still alive is very difficult, as the country's already fragile infrastructure has been shattered.

Guatemalan army helicopters began delivering food and drinking water to towns on Guatemala's south coast for the first time on Tuesday, almost a week after Stan struck.

The United Nations has launched a $22m (12.5m) appeal in aid of survivors.

It said that providing food, water, shelter and sanitation are the priorities. Several countries have already provided assistance.

Unicef has estimated that more than a third of the victims were children and has reorganised its aid programmes to help them.

Map of Central America and southern Mexico




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