January 6, 2009 / 10:44 PM / 11 years ago

Guatemala suspends landslide rescue, no survivors

(Adds coffee growers saying no impact on crop, paragraph 7)

GUATEMALA CITY, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Threatened by rockfalls, rescue workers called off their search for bodies on Tuesday and gave up on finding anybody alive in the rubble of a landslide in northern Guatemala that killed at least 34 coffee laborers.

Rescue teams using shovels and their bare hands recovered the bodies of 28 coffee farm workers crushed when part of a mountain collapsed on a road they were walking along on Sunday.

The remaining half a dozen bodies have not been found and several other people are missing, but a spokesman for disaster relief commission CONRED said the fact rocks were falling every few minutes at the site made the search too dangerous.

"Sadly there’s no possibility of finding anyone alive," spokesman Hugo Arvizu said.

Sunday’s landslide, triggered by a geological fault, brought thousands of tons of rock crashing down on a road in a remote area near the small indigenous town of San Cristobal Verapaz, about 124 miles (200 km) north of Guatemala City.

The victims were coffee laborers returning to villages in the department of Alta Verapaz who ignored warnings not to use the road after a rockfall killed two people there in December.

"There was no damage to any coffee crops," said Blanca Castro, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s coffee growers association.

Arvizu said the search for the remaining bodies could resume later in the week if rockfalls in the area ceased.

Landslides in Guatemala are more common during the rainy season from June to November when hills become waterlogged.

Alta Verapaz’s lush hillsides are prime cardamom and coffee-growing terrain but an underground geological fault cuts through the area.

(Reporting by Sarah Grainger, Editing by Sandra Maler)

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