This story was updated at 8:33 p.m. EDT
A Guatemalan official told the Agence France-Presse that the death toll had risen to 131.
The fatalities resulting from the mudslides that slammed a small Guatemalan settlement in Santa Catarina Pinula Thursday night were still being tabulated, and they continued to rise. A spokesman for the fire brigade told Agence France-Presse Sunday that at least 96 dead had been recovered and about 300 people remained unaccounted for, down from the more than 600 that were initially reported missing.
About 1,800 rescue workers have been busy since Friday canvassing the area looking for survivors, though heavy rains frustrated their efforts Sunday. In addition to searches by individuals, authorities have largely turned to using backhoes and other bulldozers to speed the search for bodies, which were engulfed in mud and debris as much as 45 feet deep.
"The people who could have been alive have drowned," services coordinator Sergio Cabanas told Yahoo. "Ninety percent of it we will do with heavy machinery."
The last time a mudslide of this force tore through Guatemala was in 2005, when mudslides claimed hundreds of lives in the city of Panabaj. A Reuters report noted that local authorities characterized the stricken settlement, El Cambray II, as being at risk for mudslides last year, saying that it was inadvisable to construct buildings in the area. That same report advised area residents to relocate; none did.
For most of the past two decades, researchers have said that towns in Guatemala and other parts of Central America are becoming increasingly vulnerable to mudslides because of excessive logging and development stretching out onto dangerous patches of land. A report commissioned by Germany’s federal ministry for economic development found that a lack of farmland contributed to both developments.
“Because access to suitable arable land is restricted, woods and fields on steep hillsides are overused, and this causes mudslides, landslides and flooding,” the report stated.
Donations to the Guatemalan Red Cross began trickling in Saturday.