On this day in 2005, Hurricane Stan bears down on the Mexican coastline after passing over the Yucatan Peninsula. The storm brought torrential rains to Central America and caused a series of landslides over the next several days that buried several towns and killed more than 1,000 people. In Guatemala, the hardest-hit nation, two entire villages were turned into mass graves.
The storm began on October 1 as a tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea near southern Mexico. It attained hurricane status late on the night of October 3 in the Gulf of Mexico. Later that day, it made landfall on the Mexican coast. All during this time, Stan was battering Central America with tremendous rainfall. Much of the land in the area had experienced deforestation, making it much more vulnerable to landslides in wet conditions. The storm caused nearly 900 severe slides across the region.
In Guatemala, Mayan lakeside communities in the Solola region were devastated when the extreme weather triggered landslides of mud and rock. In Panabaj, approximately 700 people were buried by a slide over two miles long and 35 feet deep. The thick sludge made rescue work nearly impossible, although survivors did their best with shovels and axes. Five days later, Mayor Diego Esquina announced, “Panabaj will no longer exist. We are asking that it be declared a cemetery. We are tired. We no longer know where to dig.” Even the bodies that were found could not be identified because they had deteriorated in the wet mud.
The indigenous people of Tyanchaj, living near Panabaj, also suffered a devastating landslide. Hundreds of people and homes were buried. Most were still missing five days later.
United States Army helicopters helped to evacuate injured survivors and brought supplies to the homeless. In some areas, local residents would not allow the Guatemalan Army to carry out relief efforts because of lingering anger over the army’s 1990 massacre of their people during the country’s civil war.
Hurricane Stan also caused floods in San Salvador, El Salvador, that killed more than 70 people. There were scattered casualties from the storm in Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico. Overall, more than 2,000 bodies were recovered across the region. Approximately 3,000 were never found.