Guatemalan officials weighed what to do with the site of a massive, acres-wide mudslide that might still hold hundreds of bodies and a surrounding area of largely untouched homes that has been declared uninhabitable.

Simply too vast to excavate fully, there may come a point as in the past where officials simply end digging efforts at the site and declare the area where the unrecovered bodies lie a de-facto graveyard, their buried houses becoming their final tombs.

Officials are also considering what to do with residents of the Cambray community on the outskirts of Guatemala City whose houses escaped Thursday’s massive landslide but whose neighbourhood has now been declared uninhabitable by Guatemala’s National Disaster Reduction Commission, known as the Conred. “They told us they have to get organized, they have to buy land” for us, said Clara Elena Solorzano, 40, who had lived in the neighbourhood for 17 years in a house built by her husband. “Also that they’re getting money together to buy us homes, but nothing concrete.”

As the death toll rose to 152 late yesterday, questions mounted about why people were allowed to build homes at the base of a dangerous hillside next to a small river.

Conred said it had warned of the risk Cambray faced since last year and had recommended that residents be relocated. But Solorzano and 26-year-old Sonia Hernandez, who had 10 family members displaced by the landslide and five from another house missing, both said they were never warned of any danger.

“If we had been warned of the danger we were running we never would have bought” in the neighbourhood, Hernandez said. “We practically bought our own tomb.”

Many Cambray residents were staying in shelters. Some 187 people waited on cots inside the Salon Municipal, an auditorium the town usually employs for events and parties.

Displaced families could find food, medical services, activities for children and psychological services there. Most people there were homeowners, and said they built their homes with all the proper permits. They said they were more focused on the nearby river that occasionally overflows its banks than the hillside above them.

Disaster Reduction Commission Director Alejandro Maldonado said he had warned Mayor Tono Coro of the municipality of Santa Catarina Pinula that the river was eating away at the base of the steep hill.

Maldonado said he was waiting for a report from local authorities about what they had done in response to the warning.