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Guatemala Mayan Villagers Tell of Escape from Deadly Landslide

Matilde Ical, 49, who survived a mudslide in the village of Queja, looks on during an interview with Reuters at a school area that is being used as a temporary shelter for residents of neighboring villages affected by the mudslides. (REUTERS/Sofia Menchu)
Guatemala Mayan Villagers Tell of Escape from Deadly Landslide
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Matilde Ical Chen was cooking over a wood fire when the landslide hit the Guatemalan Mayan town of Queja last week. Her mother, sister and grandparents were killed in the disaster.

She, her husband and their six small children ran to escape the danger, falling into a ravine along their path, she told Reuters. Now, she and hundreds of other survivors are sheltered at a school in Chicuz, a village about three hours from their home.

“My mother was buried, along with my sisters, their husbands, the whole family, even the grandparents,” Ical Chen said. In all, about 30 family members did not escape, she said, trapped below as much as15 meters of wet soil and rock.

“We have food here, but I can’t eat for the worry,” she said, as she cried.

Heavy rains killed many people and left a path of destruction from Panama to Mexico last week. Guatemala may have experienced the worst of it. There, poor Mayan villages are spread along mountainsides especially vulnerable to landslides.

Rescuers say they may never know how many people were buried in the slide in Queja, about 200 km from Guatemala City. Government estimates suggest about 150 people were killed.

Some survivors returned to their homes Sunday, ignoring the danger of the loose ground. They are looking for other survivors and their belongings.

Days of heavy rains finally ended. Helicopters moved in and out of the area, bringing food and water. Rescue workers recovered several bodies, even as they were threatened by new landslides.

At least two people were killed when a small plane carrying humanitarian aid for the disaster area crashed in Guatemala City.

Rolando Cal was among those who made the dangerous walk back to Queja. He has been searching for 23 family members.

“This is where my whole family and my home were destroyed,” Cal said. He pointed to a mass of dirt and wreckage where his house once stood. He is staying in a shelter in nearby Santa Elena.

“I no longer have a place to live,” said Cal, who walked into Queja on Sunday “Without food, without money. I’m miserable,” he added.

A retired general, Franciso Mus, organized a helicopter of supplies. When it arrived in Chicuz, many of the 450 survivors ran to meet it, hoping for news of family members. There was none.

Many of the survivors were saved by their neighbors in Chicuz. They risked their own lives as they used heavy ropes to pull people out of the slide, said village official Raul Gualin.

Ical Chen has only the clothes she is wearing. She is thankful that the village is helping her. She believes she, her husband and children will never return to Queja. It would be too painful.

“We will…not go back there,” she said. “I lost my whole family.”

I’m Susan Shand.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

ravine - n. a small, deep valley

vulnerable - adj. easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally

miserable – adj. very unhappy