Three dead, 15 missing as sewage-polluted river ravages Guatemalan town

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A small child and two other people were found dead Monday after a sewage-polluted river swollen by heavy rains swept away precarious homes in the Guatemalan capital, authorities said.

Nine children were among 15 people still missing after the river gushed through the Dios es Fiel (God is Faithful) shantytown in the early morning hours, according to the Conred disaster relief agency.

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Search and rescue personnel with sniffer dogs came upon the three bodies, including that of a girl between the ages of three and five.

The Naranjo river washed away six homes in an informal settlement erected under a bridge in the center of Guatemala City, Conred spokesman Rodolfo Garcia told reporters.

Hundreds of indigent people had erected shacks consisting mainly of zinc sheets 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 casual 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.

The rainy season, which runs from May to November, has this year 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.

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