July 26, 2008 / 12:46 AM / 10 years ago

Tons of trash kill 4 at Guatemala dump, 20 missing

(Recasts with new death, rescue called off for rain)

GUATEMALA CITY, July 25 (Reuters) - At least four people died and some 20 were missing in a Guatemalan garbage dump on Friday when a mountain of trash, including human remains, collapsed on people foraging there, emergency workers said.

As night fell, dangerous rain forced hundreds of police and bystanders to call off the search for the missing under an avalanche of old tires, broken glass, rotting food and human remains, rescue worker Jose Victor Chavez said from the scene.

Dozens of people come every day to the scrapheap to take jewelry from the bodies of Guatemala’s poor dumped in the landfill when their relatives cannot afford to maintain their graves in the neighboring cemetery, Chavez said.

"The rescue has stopped because it is raining in some parts of the city and this makes the job difficult for the firemen at the scene and so it was decided to withdraw and start the search for the others tomorrow," Chavez said.

At least six children working alongside relatives to search for valuables in the trash were among the missing, he said.

A police spokesman also put the death toll at four and said around 10 people had disappeared.

Scores of Guatemala’s poor search for scrap metal and other recyclables to scrape out a living in the sprawling dump despite dangers of landslides during the rainy season.

"Yesterday it rained all afternoon and into the night, saturating the land and causing the landslide," said police spokesman Gerson Contreras.

Four people died just a month ago at the same landfill in a similar incident. "Because of the rains and what happened before, the authorities have been trying to stop people from going there, but their need is so great they just kept coming," Contreras said. (Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Chris Aspin; editing by Todd Eastham)




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