Six homes have been swept away by the swollen Naranjo River in Guatemala City, with nine children among the missing.
At least three people are dead and 15 others missing after a swollen river swept away homes in Guatemala’s capital city.
Early on Monday, waters from the Naranjo River rushed through a shantytown in Guatemala City called Dios es Fiel, or God is Faithful, destroying at least six homes that had been perched under a bridge, according to Guatemala’s National Coordination for Disaster Reduction agency (CONRED).
Search dogs discovered the bodies of three people who died in the flood waters, including a young girl, believed to be about five years old. Nine children were among the 15 missing.
Heavy rains triggered the high waters, which pushed flows of stones, soil and waste through the settlement.
“The river … took homes, neighbours’ belongings. Neighbours disappeared,” resident Esau Gonzalez, 42, told the AFP news agency.
Residents told AFP they had no choice but to live in the precarious location. Tens of thousands of Guatemalans live in similar shantytowns.
“We knew the risk, [but] we are here out of necessity,” said Marvin Cabrera, 36, a food delivery worker who lived in the area struck by the rising waters.
Guatemala has a 59-percent poverty rate. It also has a housing deficit of about 2 million units, according to the Guatemalan Chamber of Construction and the ANACOVI builders’ association.
Experts say the lack of housing for low-income residents contributes to the construction of informal settlements, often in locations prone to natural disasters.
Iris Lopez, 27, said she hoped the government would move the community to a safer place following Monday’s disaster.
She told the AFP that “nothing remained” of her sister’s rickety house. Luckily, her sister was not home when the water rushed through.
“If she was here, she would have been taken by the river,” Lopez said.
Landslides are a constant threat during Guatemala’s rainy season, which runs from May to November.
At least 29 people have already died from landslides in the country this year, with about 2.1 million people affected overall.
In addition, 10,000 homes have been lost in heavy rains this year. Four roads and nine bridges have also been destroyed.
“I never imagined that the river would rise and take away my entire family,” one grieving resident, Ana Patzan, told the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre after Monday’s flood. “Now there is nothing left. None of them, they are all missing.”