Rescuers have recovered the bodies of three of the five people who are believed to have been killed by a powerful landslide that blocked a major highway in northern Armenia earlier this month.
Norik Mirzoyan, a 72-year-old resident of a nearby village, was found buried under a massive layer of mud and rock on Tuesday.
Mirzoyan rode in a car with his grandson when the calamity swept away a 200-meter highway section close to the Georgian border on October 2. The young man managed to escape from the car at the last moment.
The bodies of two other victims, Mekhak Sorsumatian and his brother Armen, were pulled on Monday. Rescuers said they lay 20 meters below the surface.
The rescuers have not yet located the two other missing men: Gurgen Hakobian and his son Artur. They may be trapped in two of the 37 vehicles that were buried by the landslide and have still not been unearthed.
“We are now actively working to locate the two cars,” Vrezh Gabrielian, deputy chief of the Armenian Rescue Service, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Several heavy trucks have been pulled out of the rubble with the help of military helicopters and cranes used for railway maintenance.
More than 150 rescuers continued to work at the disaster site on Tuesday. They used three construction cranes.
Citing observations by geologists and seismologists, Gabrielian spoke of continuing landslide activity in the area which he said could intensify after fresh rainfalls expected in the coming days.
“The danger [of another landslide] is very big,” he said. “By using this heavy construction machinery, we are taking a big risk. But we have to do that.”
It remained unclear when the highway leading to the Armenian-Georgian border will be reopened to traffic. Vehicles other than heavy trucks are currently using a rural road bypassing the destroyed highway section.