The Heat Is Online

200 Missing in Bolivian Landslide

Hundreds feared trapped in landslide, April 2, 2003

CHIMA, Bolivia (AP) -- Firefighters and villagers raced Tuesday to unearth dozens of people trapped under a mass of red clay, rocks and rubble from a landslide which has killed at least 13 people and likely more.

Justo Gareca, director of Bolivia's Civil Defense Corps announced up to 400 people may still be trapped under the rubble. Defense Minister Freddy Teodovic said the landslide killed 13 people and that 12 were confirmed missing, but he feared there could be hundreds more.

Villagers estimate about 50 miners and their families were trapped under the mass of earth about the size of two football fields. Chima is a tiny mining town of about 1,800 people about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of La Paz.

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 have managed to arrive at the disaster area. Gareca said some 300 rescue workers and national guardsmen will begin pulling bodies from the landslide Wednesday. The town had begun to smell of decomposing bodies Tuesday.

Local doctors converted a covered basketball court into a makeshift clinic that later served as a vigil for the dead. A woman wandered around moaning, "How long must we live in this misery."

The village has no cellular phone capability and the only telephone booth was squashed by falling earth.

Given the scarcity of official information, relatives of the victims have gone to the airwaves to ask radio listeners if they have any information of missing loved ones.

Villagers were frantically digging through the mountain of mud and rock to reach survivors. Rescue helicopters donated by the United States are expected to arrive Wednesday.

Chima, is an isolated, 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 by the landslide was the village schoolhouse, said Toridio Mercado, deputy mayor of Tipuani, a neighboring village with a medical clinic receiving the injured.

"The situation is urgent," Mercado said. "We don't have even the basic resources. We have two doctors and they need gauze, syringes, plaster and body bags."

Mina said the governor of La Paz sent a group to assess the situation. The government's only form of communication with the village, which is 12 hours by road from the capital, so far has been a small radio at the gold mine.

A landslide two years ago left eight dead in Chima. Authorities say that mining tunnels have undermined the mountain and put it at risk of collapse.

Rains spur landslide; 14 dead, 200 missing in Bolivia

The Boston Globe, April 2, 2003

LA PAZ - Heavy rains triggered a massive landslide in a remote gold-prospecting town in northern Bolivia, killing at least 14 people and leaving 200 missing, officials said yesterday. A mountainside washed into the town of Chima, 117 miles from the capital of La Paz, on Monday, burying more than 100 houses in mud. ''Fourteen bodies have been found so far,'' government health official Beatriz Peinado said.

Peinado said the first of a convoy of rescuers had arrived in the town, accessible only by a winding 360 mile road, after a 10-hour journey. Government officials said the US Embassy lent rescue teams, four helicopters, and an airplane that are usually used in efforts to eradicate illegal crops of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, to aid rescue efforts. (Reuters)