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10.17.2005
  This Should Put Hurricane Katrina in Perspective
Guatemalan Towns Abandoned As Mass Graves
Oct 10 8:00 AM US/Eastern
By MARK STEVENSON

Guatemalan officials said they would abandon communities buried by landslides and declare them mass graveyards as reports of devastation trickled in from some of the more than 100 communities cut off from the outside world after killer mudslides.

Guatemala’s death toll from torrential rains last week associated with Hurricane Stan stood at 652; 384 were missing.

The worst-hit communities will be abandoned and declared graveyards, officials said, after they stopped most efforts to dig out increasingly decomposed bodies.

“Panabaj will no longer exist,” said Mayor Diego Esquina, referring to the Mayan hamlet on the shores of Lake Atitlan covered by a half-mile wide mudflow as much as 15 to 20 feet thick. “We are asking that it be declared a cemetery. We are tired, we no longer know where to dig.”

Esquina said about 250 people remained missing. The bodies found were buried in mass graves.

Sniffer dogs trained to detect bodies didn’t arrive in time, and “we don’t even know where to dig anymore” in the acres of mudflows, Esquina said.

Hundreds of Mayan villagers who had swarmed over the vast mudslides with shovels, picks and axes relented Sunday and stopped digging for neighbors and family.

Vice President Eduardo Stein said steps were being taken to give towns “legal permission to declare the buried areas cemeteries” as “a sanitary measure.”

 
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