Recent landslides cease the search within the mud-buried hamlet of Guatemala


© Reuters. Flood damaged car can be seen near an area hit by a landslide caused by heavy rains from Storm Eta as the search for victims continues in the buried village of Queja


From Sofia Menchu

SAN CRISTOBAL VERAPAZ, Guatemala (Reuters) – New landslides have halted efforts by rescue workers in Guatemala to dig up to 15 meters through mud to reach homes that were inundated by a devastating storm that hit dozens of people across Central America and America killed southern Mexico.

Storm Etas pouring downpours toppled trees, filled fast-moving rivers and tore down portions of a mountainside over the village of Queja in the central Guatemalan region of Alta Verapaz, burying dozens of people in their homes.

The rains triggered more mudslides in Queja late Saturday, and the head of a local emergency team said rescue efforts may have been permanently halted.

"We coordinate so that all employees are evacuated in the morning because we cannot work there. If we stay, lives will be lost," said emergency worker Juan Alberto Leal.

Some of the houses in Queja are under 50 feet of mud, Leal said, with relentless rain making the soil too loose to work safely and new landslides forcing workers to flee to safer ground in the village.

Gloria Cac, a Poqomchi 'member and resident of Queja, said 22 family members were missing after the mountain collapsed.

"Her whole family is gone, she is the only survivor. Her father, mother, siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, they are all gone. Twenty-two family members and only they are alive," a visibly distraught Cac, one of them carries small child in her arms, said by an interpreter in a taped video.

Queja was home to around 1,300 people, according to the government. Not all homes have been destroyed and most of the survivors have already been evacuated, officials say.

"At zero, there's a terrible reality," said Francisco Muz, a retired general who helped with the rescue effort.

The spread of the Panamanian weather front into Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico has further increased the death toll in these countries. It's now over 65.

In the Mexican state of Chiapas, 19 people died in floods, many of whom were inundated by rivers whose banks burst. The federal government announced that the floods killed two more people north of Chiapas in the state of Tabasco.

The devastation was caused by Hurricane Mitch, which killed around 10,000 people in Central America in 1998.

President Alejandro Giammattei suggested on Friday that up to 150 people could have been buried in the Queja landslide.

Guatemalan Disaster Relief Conred said 103 people were known to be missing and 21 were confirmed dead in the country.

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