- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

SANTIAGO ATITLAN, Guatemala — Dozens of Mayans used hand tools to dig through hardening mud yesterday, searching for bodies under a landslide that swallowed a Guatemalan neighborhood and pushed the regionwide death toll from a week of pounding rains to 613.

Hardest hit was the lakeside town of Santiago Atitlan, where the side of a volcano collapsed, killing at least 208 persons. Officials said the victims were among 508 persons killed and another 337 missing in Guatemala.

The other 105 deaths were scattered throughout El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica.

The mud-spattered body of 3-year-old Mari Taxachoy Tzina was pulled yesterday from the home where she died. Her father, Gaspar Tzina, buried her in a common grave at the local cemetery.

“That’s my wife, my two daughters, my son — I’m only missing one more son,” he said, explaining how he had buried almost his entire family.

“You always think about saving your family, but I couldn’t,” said Mr. Tzina, a laborer who returned from work in Guatemala City to find his house gone, replaced by a blank face of mud.

Guatemala has borne the brunt of heavy rains exacerbated by Hurricane Stan, which made landfall Tuesday on the Mexican Gulf Coast before quickly weakening to a tropical depression.

Governments in Central America and Mexico were still struggling yesterday to reach isolated areas devastated by flooding and landslides. Many roads had yet to be cleared.

On the banks of Lake Atitlan, a popular tourist destination, dozens of Mayan Indians swarmed over a vast bed of caked mud that covered trees and houses, looking for those still missing after Wednesday’s landslide.

Primitive wooden coffins piled up in the cemetery, waiting for bodies. Villagers held sprigs of native herbs to ward off odors as they dug mass graves for bodies that likely would be buried without names.

“Entire families have disappeared,” said Diego Sojuel, of the Santiago Atitlan municipal aid committee. “In some cases, there is no one that can identify the cadavers. And in other cases, it is because of the state of decomposition that we are going to have to bury them without names.”

Tourists worked alongside local residents digging trenches 10-feet deep through mud strewn with bits of tin roofing, clothing, papers and bedding.

Chris Needham, 24, of London, paused to wonder aloud whether some areas might eventually have to be declared a burial ground.

“That’s people’s families under there,” he said. “They’re not going to stop digging. I wouldn’t stop.”

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