Rescue groups method the storm-ravaged Guatemalan village, dozens are lacking

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Women walk in area hit by mudslide following the passage of Storm Eta in Purulha

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From Sofia Menchu

SAN CRISTOBAL VERAPAZ, Guatemala (Reuters) – Rescue workers battled treacherous roads buried in mud and rubble to a remote mountain village in Guatemala that was flooded by a devastating storm that killed dozens of people in Central America and southern Mexico on Saturday.

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 Alta Verapaz region, with dozens of people buried in their homes.

The devastating weather front has carried the destruction from Panama to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico, where altogether well over 50 deaths have been recorded.

A steady drizzle fell as firefighters in the town of San Cristobal Verapaz prepared to make the trip to Queja on foot, which could take a full day.

“It has already been tried to get through but it is very difficult and we are really sad that we couldn’t get through but it is very dangerous,” said Juan Alberto Leal, an official with the local fire department. “The problem is that there are several mudslides along the entire route.”

The 22-kilometer drive between San Cristobal Verapaz and Queja is normally an hour’s drive.

Nevertheless, 55 soldiers, 25 firefighters and 15 police officers managed to reach the site of the disaster.

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

Guatemalan Disaster Relief Agency Conred said 116 people are still missing and 12 have been confirmed dead in the country.

It wasn’t the first time that this corner of Alta Verapaz has been hit by a disaster. The Queja area appeared to be the site of a giant landslide on a road pass a decade ago, killing dozens of people, said army spokesman Ruben Tellez.

As one of the most violent storms in Central America in years, Eta hit Nicaragua on Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 mph.

After relentless rains, it weakened to a tropical depression as it pulled inland into Honduras and Guatemala before invading the Caribbean again and advancing towards Cuba.

The Cuban Meteorological Office warned of heavy rains and floods on Saturday as Eta approached the island north and was on its way to Florida.

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