GUATEMALA CITY – Rescuers dug through tons of mud late Monday in search of more victims of a massive landslide that buried a long stretch of highway in northern Guatemala, killing at least 35 coffee workers and travelers using the road.
Vice President Rafael Espada said he feared the death toll could rise by at least a dozen more. About 15 other people were injured when the mass of mud and rock roared down a mountain Sunday near the village of Aquil Grande.
Dozens of families watched anxiously as 165 rescuers dug through the collapsed mountainside, which continued to rain down rocks and dirt. Rescuers lined up the dead at a cemetery where people tried to identify them.
Roadwork along the highway could have triggered the slide, said Angel Estrada, the head of the rescue effort.
• Click here to see photos from the landslide (Warning: Graphic).
Authorities still do not know how many people were in the area when the landslide buried nearly a mile of highway.
At least 35 people were killed, said Hugo Arvizu, a spokesman for Guatemala's National Disaster Prevention Agency.
Leopoldo Ical, mayor of the nearby city of San Cristobal Verapaz, said at least 100 people were in the area, boarding or disembarking from buses. Many of the victims were laborers from nearby communities who worked on coffee plantations, he said.
"We are very dismayed by this tragedy," Ical said. "The landslide is so big, we don't have much hope of recovering many more bodies."
Juana Alonso, sobbing, recounted how she lost two sons in the slide. One, 22, was killed while returning to another province with his wife and daughter following a Christmas visit here with the family. The other, 26, was returning home to a nearby village.
Two people were killed in a landslide along the same road two weeks ago, and the highway had been blocked since. But scores of coffee workers walked around the barricaded stretch of roadway to reach buses headed for the plantations, Ical said.
About 300 families from the tiny Mayan mountain villages of Aquil Grande and Aquil Pequeno were evacuated Monday to a nearby village to protect them in case more landslides occur in the weakened area.
Police also arrested two men who were caught robbing people's homes in Aquil Grande after residents went to see if their loved ones were buried in the landslide.