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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

300 Feared Dead in Peruvian Mudslide

LIMA, Peru -- President Alberto Fujimori joined efforts to recover the bodies of villagers killed by a mudslide in the Peruvian Andes. As many as 300 people were feared dead, and hopes dimmed Thursday that any more people would be found alive.

Rescue workers using picks, shovels and crowbars had recovered 41 bodies by Wednesday evening. But scores more were still buried under the mud.

Fujimori participated in the rescue effort Wednesday, carrying the body of a young boy and placing it in a coffin.

"It's estimated that between 250 and 300 people are buried below this immense quantity of mud," Fujimori said. "Two villages have almost completely vanished." Homes, livestock and crops were also swept away.

The president, known for his steely lack of emotions, seemed visibly moved by the tragedy as he walked with rescue workers through the mud.

"I have just seen 3-year-old children [removed from the mud] with their bodies limp," said the Peruvian leader, who arrived at the mountain site by helicopter. "It is truly dramatic.''

The mudslide occurred before dawn Tuesday when the side of a hill saturated by torrential rains let loose and came roaring down on two Andean villages.

The mud and rocks buried villages in the district of Tamburco, 480 kilometers southeast of the capital, Lima. Only five people -- two children and three adults -- in the direct line of the river of mud are believed to be alive, Fujimori said.

Television footage Wednesday showed dead men, women, and children trapped in the 300,000 cubic meters of thick mud which swept over the villages. Arms and legs of some of the victims stuck out of the earth.

"It is really a huge glob and there is the risk that if it rains again there could be another landslide,'' Fujimori said.

He said heavy rescue equipment could not be brought into the site.

"For the few survivors -- and there really are few -- emergency help is arriving,'' he said.

Many of the bodies recovered were mutilated when their homes came crashing down upon them as they slept, one rescue nurse said.

Carrion said only two homes were still standing in the village of Ccocha.

Hopes of finding any more survivors two days after the mudslide were dim.

Citing the threat of epidemic diseases, Health Minister Marino Costa Bauer said large quantities of insecticide were being sent to the area. Drinking water was also being sent.

Costa Bauer said 250 people had been evacuated because of the threat of other mudslides and as many as 600 may be moved to safer areas.

Rescue work has been hampered by the lack of roads into the area, according to a Transportation Ministry official.

Many families were trapped on high ground surrounded by the impassible muck and were forced to spend the chilly highland night outside, awaiting rescue.

"We are losing lives instead of saving them,'' said Livia Huaman, a government official.

Heavy rain in the highlands from December through March frequently causes flooding and landslides.