Guatemala digs through landslide where 100 believed buried

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A barefooted woman makes her way around debris brought on by a landslide on a road blocking traffic, in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta, in Purulha, northern Guatemala Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. As the remnants of Eta moved back over Caribbean waters, governments in Central America worked to tally the displaced and dead, and recover bodies from landslides and flooding that claimed dozens of lives from Guatemala to Panama. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

SAN PEDRO SULA – Guatemalan search brigades pulled the first bodies Friday from a massive rain-fueled landslide where at least 100 people are believed to be entombed, as the remains of Hurricane Eta moved across Caribbean waters, strengthening en route to Cuba.

Governments worked to tally the displaced and dead, and recover bodies from landslides and flooding caused by Eta, now a tropical depression, that claimed dozens of lives from Mexico to Panama.

In southern Mexico, across the border from Guatemala, 19 people died as heavy rains attributed to Eta caused mudslides and swelled streams and rivers, according to Chiapas state civil defense official Elías Morales Rodríguez.

The worst incident occurred in the mountain township of Chenalho, where 10 people were swept away by a rain-swollen stream; their bodies were later found downstream. Mexico's National Meteorological Service said Eta's “broad circulation is causing intense to torrential rains on the Yucatan peninsula and in southeastern Mexico.”

In Guatemala, the first army brigade reached a massive landslide Friday morning in the central mountains where an estimated 150 homes were buried Thursday. They recovered three bodies, according to an army spokesman. In a news conference, President Alejandro Giammattei said he believed there were at least 100 dead there in San Cristobal Verapaz, but noted that was still unconfirmed.

“The panorama is complicated in that area,” he said, noting rescuers were struggling to access the site.

Tropical Depression Eta was centered 275 miles (445 kilometers) west-southwest of Grand Cayman. It was moving northeast at 12 mph (19 kph) and had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph).

Hurricane Eta’s arrival Tuesday afternoon in northeast Nicaragua followed days of drenching rain as it crawled toward shore. Its slow, meandering path north through Honduras pushed rivers over their banks and pouring into neighborhoods where families were forced onto rooftops to wait for rescue.