Six dead, 13 missing after Guatemalan river sweeps away homes
Guatemala City, Guatemala — Two children and four adults were found dead Monday after a river swollen by heavy rains swept away shacks built on its banks in the Guatemalan capital, authorities said.
Thirteen people, including eight children, were still missing after the river tore through the Dios es Fiel (God is Faithful) informal settlement in the early morning hours, according to the Conred disaster relief agency.
Hundreds of firemen, police, soldiers, and volunteers participated in the rescue efforts.
The Naranjo River washed away six homes, built mainly of zinc sheets, under a bridge in the center of Guatemala City, Conred spokesman Rodolfo Garcia told reporters.
Hundreds of needy residents of the capital constructed their homes on the banks of the river despite a municipal prohibition due to it containing residential wastewater from the capital’s sewage system.
Water-bearing stones, soil and human waste gushed through the settlement following heavy rains on Sunday, leaving mainly just debris in its wake, an AFP reporter observed.
Resident Esau Gonzalez, a 42-year-old day worker, recalled how “the river… took homes, neighbors’ belongings. Neighbors disappeared.”
Gonzalez told AFP the people of the community had nowhere else to go.
“Rent is very high. Salaries are not enough to pay rent with,” he said.
“The river took entire families,” added Marvin Cabrera, 36, a motorcycle food delivery worker.
“We knew the risk, (but) we are here out of necessity,” he added.
Iris Lopez, 27, said she hoped the government would move the community to a safer place, adding “nothing remained” of the rickety house of her sister, who was away visiting their mother.
“If she was here, she would have been taken by the river,” said Lopez.
Tens of thousands of Guatemala’s 17.7 million inhabitants depend on precarious housing in often hazardous environments such as this one in a country with a 59-percent poverty rate.
The country has a housing deficit of about two million units, according to the Guatemalan Chamber of Construction and the ANACOVI builders’ association.
Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei expressed his “deep concern and solidarity with the affected families”, in a message on social media.
The rainy season, which runs from May to November, has claimed 29 lives so far, affected some 2.1 million people, of whom more than 10,000 lost their homes, and destroyed four roads and nine bridges.