NPR Xeni Tech: Storm Victims' Remains Exhumed in Guatemala

FAFG - unearthing in Panabaj

Today on NPR "Day to Day," the second segment in a 5-part series I filed called "Guatemala: Unearthing the Future," about how technology is being used to solve historic problems. Today's piece follows the FAFG, a group of forensic scientists who are working to exhume and identify the remains of victims buried in a mudslide caused by Hurricane Stan.

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Link to "Storm Victims' Remains Exhumed in Guatemala," a profile on the work of the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, with streaming audio (Real/Win).

MP3 Link for today's segment.

Link to narrated slideshow. More photos here.

"Xeni Tech" home, and podcast feed

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Memorial, Panabaj

Before the mudslide, there were more than 50 homes in the Tzujutil Mayan village of Panabaj. Now, the houses and hundreds of the people who lived in them are 10 feet underground. Along the edges of the site, makeshift memorials stand as monuments to the dead.

The Guatemalan government cordoned off the zone as a high-risk area, and had no plans to recover the dead. But survivors resisted and joined with the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) to unearth the victims.

For more than a decade, the FAFG has exhumed mass graves from political massacres that took place during Guatemala's decades-long civil war. This time, they are working in the wake of a natural disaster. The country's army has offered to help with the exhumation, but the mudslide survivors have refused. The military killed 13 unarmed civilians in Panabaj in 1990.

Along with tractors to clear the 400,000 square-foot mudslide site, FAFG is using mapping software and other technology to create a secure database on the remains.

As of today, the FAFG has uncovered 82 sets of human remains, and identified nearly 60. They believe there may be as many as 500 bodies in all.

FAFG - coded corpse

IMAGES: Top, FAFG workers exhume victims of the October 5, 2005 mudslide in Panabaj. (photo – courtesy FAFG). | A makeshift memorial marks the site where one family was buried alive (photo – Xeni Jardin) | When a corpse is unearthed, forensic anthropologists with the FAFG radio their tech team for a code that will help to track all that becomes known about the victim. (photo – courtesy FAFG) | 8-year-old Juan Ramirez survived that night, and said villagers at first thought the noise was an airplane, not a mudslide. (photo – Xeni Jardin)


  • NPR "Xeni Tech" – Guatemala: Unearthing the Future. Part 1, ""A Database for the Dead."