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At Least 36 Missing After Cliff Collapses

April 10, 1996

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Some 200,000 tons of rock and dirt buried more than 100 homes in a poor La Paz neighborhood Tuesday, and at least 36 people were missing, Mayor Ronnie MacLean said.

A steep cliff with homes built on its face collapsed, creating a storm of rocks and dirt that buried the dwellings. A loud rumble minutes before 2 a.m. landslide woke a number of families, enabling them to flee the scene uninjured.

Officials held little hope for those missing, including many children, who were believed to be trapped under the soil and rocks. A series of smaller landslides hampered rescue efforts. Three bodies had been recovered by early evening.

President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada mobilized soldiers and police to aid in the rescue efforts.

La Paz, a city of one million, is located in a large bowl surrounded by sheer cliffs, many of them inhabited by poor Indians.

Experts have repeatedly said the soil structure on the cliffs is unsafe for homes, and previous landslides have reinforced the point. The area had been covered with trees to help control erosion and shore up the soil, but they were cut down, and the city allowed construction in their place.

MacLean accused the previous city administration of negligence for granting the building permits. The homes, built without proper plumbing and drainage systems, further weakened the soil and contributed to the accident, he said.

``We have a great human drama due to negligence, the mayor said.

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