CHIMA, Bolivia (AP) – Firefighters and local villagers raced yesterday to reach villagers buried under clay and rocks from a landslide that has killed at least 13 people and left hundreds missing.
Bolivian Defense Minister Freddy Teodovic said initial reports indicated that up to 400 people were missing after an avalanche early Monday swept through the mining town of 1,800 people, about 125 miles north of La Paz.
Teodovic, who said he was in touch with the firefighters on the scene, said 13 people were confirmed killed.
Bad weather and washed-out roads hampered a large-scale rescue effort to reach the victims buried by the landslide early Monday in this gold-mining town.
Despite government plans to send in four helicopters, national guard troops and international rescue teams, only 20 firefighters had arrived at the disaster area by yesterday afternoon.
Justo Gareca, director of Bolivia’s Civil Defense Corps, said some 300 rescue workers and national guardsmen will join the rescue and recovery effort today. The town had begun to smell of decomposing bodies yesterday.
Villagers estimate about 50 miners and their families were trapped under the mass of earth about the size of two football fields.
Local doctors converted a covered basketball court into a makeshift clinic that also served as a place to await news on victims. A woman wandered around moaning, “How long must we live in this misery?”
The village is also out of reach of cellular phone networks and its only telephone booth was squashed by falling earth.
Victims’ relatives have gone to the airwaves to ask listeners if they have any information on missing loved ones.
Rescue helicopters donated by the United States are expected to arrive today.
Chima is an isolated, dirt-poor town where gold miners have burrowed into the mountain with explosions of dynamite for the past 70 years in search of a meager living.
One of the few buildings spared was the village schoolhouse, said Toridio Mercado, deputy mayor of Tipuani, a neighboring village with a medical clinic receiving the injured.