ANTIGUA, Guatemala — Rescue teams on Saturday dug through mud and debris in a remote village in central Guatemala searching for more than 100 people whose homes were swallowed by a massive mudslide caused by rainfall from remnants of Hurricane Eta.
Francisco Muss, a retired Guatemalan army general who has been coordinating rescue efforts since Thursday, when part of a mountain slope sheared off and smothered some two dozen homes in the village of Quejá, said rescuers had found three bodies so far and believed that at least 125 people had been killed.
The tally adds to a confirmed storm-related death toll of more than 60 throughout Central America, according to regional officials, local media and wire services.
Hundreds of other homes in Quejá were also damaged or destroyed, General Muss said in a phone interview. “The mountainside collapsed,” he said. “It split into two separate mudslides once it got to the village of Quejá.”
About 3,000 survivors managed to flee Quejá on foot during the storm, he said, seeking shelter in the neighboring village of Santa Elena.
“They need many things to survive over the next eight days because they have nothing,” General Muss said. “They have lost everything.”
Eta roared ashore as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday along the northeast Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and, for the next several days, churned slowly through northern Nicaragua, then Honduras, blasting high winds and dumping torrential rainfall across Central America that caused widespread flooding and landslides.
Though the weather system was downgraded to a tropical storm, then a tropical depression, it continued to bring devastation to the region. After moving back over the Caribbean Friday, it had regained enough strength by Saturday morning to be classified again as a tropical storm.
By midday Saturday it was about 30 miles north-northwest of Grand Cayman Island and heading toward Cuba, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the Cayman Islands, parts of Cuba, the northwestern Bahamas, the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, and the Florida coast from Golden Beach to Chokoloskee, the Hurricane Center said.
Across Central America, from Mexico to Panama, relief efforts were underway on Saturday as the authorities continued to assess the damage.
Guatemala’s national disaster agency said 12 deaths had been confirmed from Eta, but officials expect that count to climb sharply amid rescue operations in Quejá and elsewhere, which have been slowed by blocked roads and washed-out bridges.
At least 23 people have died in Honduras from storm-related flooding and landslides, while eight died in Panama and two in Costa Rica, Reuters reported. At least two people lost their lives in Nicaragua, local media reported.
In southern Mexico, local officials said that 19 people had died in mudslides and floods, according to The Associated Press.
Guatemalan officials fear the mudslide in Quejá will turn out to be the deadliest episode of the storm.
Rescue teams took more than half a day to reach the remote site because landslides and flooding had blocked access roads and damaged bridges, officials said. Rescue teams were forced to abandon their vehicles and walk many miles to reach the disaster area. Supplies were being flown in by helicopter on Saturday.
“There are at least 20 to 25 homes totally destroyed,” General Muss said, “and 125 lives have been lost in this disaster. They are gone.”
Nic Wirtz reported from Antigua, Guatemala, and Kirk Semple from Mexico City.