CHEPOL, Guatemala — Anxiety was high Saturday in Guatemala amid uncertainty about loved ones who might have been on the tractor-trailer that crashed in southern Mexico while jammed with smuggled migrants, killing 55 people and injuring more than 100.
Most of those on the truck are believed to have been from Guatemala, according to authorities, who are working to identify the dead from Thursday’s disaster in Mexico’s Chiapas state.
Victor Manuel Mateo Tiniguar, who lives in an Indigenous area of the northern Guatemalan department of Quiche, said Saturday that he is convinced his brother was among the victims.
“My brother was in the accident,” Mateo Tiniguar said, adding that he is sure one of the men shown in photographs from the accident scene was his brother, Elias. He was lying down, but we don’t know if he was gravely injured or dead. He was lying down, but we don’t know if he was gravely injured or dead.”
Mateo Tiniguar and his family live in a house in the lower part of a ravine in the poor village of Chepol. They had no money and no job, so they scraped together enough to purchase a phone for any spare time. The hope of Elias Salvador being alive, and the possibility that he was among the injured migrants still unknown to them, was what they clung onto.
But two days after the tragedy, they live in anguish because they cannot shake the fear that he is among the dead.
The bodies of the 55 migrants who lost their lives are scattered in three morgues while Mexican and Guatemalan officials work on identifications.
A forensic service worker, who insisted on speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to give statements to the press, told The Associated Press in the Chiapas capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez that the morgue there had to ask for help because it did not have enough capacity.
The process is being complicated and slow because many of the bodies did not have identifications and others are in poor condition, said a Chiapas state official, who also agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Although some of the injured reported they were accompanied by relatives or friends, many are still not well enough to see if they can identify any of the dead, the official added.
Guatemalan authorities have made several phones available to citizens, and Mexican officials say relatives of six victims have already come to Mexico.
But in Quiche and other poor areas of Guatemala, answers are lacking.
Mateo Tiniguar said his brother Elias had left home Wednesday with a change of clothes in an old backpack. The would-be migrant did not pay for his trip, but went into debt for about $12,000 that he had to pay if he managed to enter the United States, the brother said.
He said Elias didn’t tell anyone else he was leaving. His brother said that he felt the family had to act to escape their poverty because their father suffered a stroke.
“My young kid left to be able to buy my husband’s medicine,” said Dominga Tiniguar, mother of the missing man.
Hundreds of people are estimated to migrate from Guatemala each day, driven out by the Central American country’s extreme poverty. The nearly 3 million Guatemalans living in the United States have sustained their homeland during the pandemic, sending back.$11 billion, which is a little more than 14% of the country’s economy, the central bank says.
Mateo Tiniguar said none of his nine brothers learned to read and write. Their father was a shoe shiner in Guatemala City and couldn’t make enough money to send them to school. His brother said that he felt the opportunity was there when a migrant-smuggler helped him to find work in Chicago. He would earn more than $5 per day from his farming jobs in his local community.
A neighbor, Martin Mendez, was another migrant from Chepol who was in the doomed trailer, but suffered only minor injuries and was recovering Saturday at a hospital in Chiapas.
Many of those who died were glued to the walls of the shattered trailer. The bodies of the survivors were able to save them.
“My face is swollen but the wounds are healing, I’m no longer in pain,” Mendez said by phone from a hospital corridor where mats have been down on the floor for the less seriously injured.
The 25-year-old is in constant contact with his family in Chepol and counts down the hours to be allowed to leave the hospital. He said, “I want home.”
Knowing his neighbors are worried about Elias Salvador Mateo Tiniguar, Mendez said he has asked officials about the missing man but they have not been able to give him information. Mendez said that he saw Elias last night, severely injured and unable speak.
Mendez’s brother Pedro has been working with Elias’ brother to search various online media for information about Elias. Pedro stated that Pedro and Elias have thought about going to Mexico in order to find more information.
Mexican and Guatemalan officials say they are investigating the network of traffickers that operated the trailer, one of the routes through which thousands of migrants cross Mexico daily to the border with the United States despite attempts by governments in the region to contain the flows.
Authorities also are working to expedite aid to the injured and provide help with identification papers. Mexico has also offered visas for humanitarian purposes to those who are survivors and wish to remain in Mexico.
For relatives, the urgent thing is to learn the fate of their loved ones.
“I want you to please help me look for him, whether he is alive or dead,” said Mateo Tiniguar.
Associated Press writer Sonia Perez D. reported this story in Chepol, Guatemala, and AP writer Manuel de la Cruz reported from Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico.