(Reuters) - A landslide in northern Guatemala on Tuesday killed three children and another 12 people buried in the disaster are believed dead, a local official said.

Heavy predawn rains caused the disaster that buried four homes while families slept.

"They have been trapped under heavy mud. It's unlikely that anyone is still alive," Sergio Cabanas, director of civil defense, told Reuters.

Rain and unstable terrain prevented rescue teams from reaching the landslide on foot and crews have been removing dirt with heavy machinery. Rescuers will continue to search for victims through Thursday, Cabanas said.

Authorities by Tuesday evening had removed from the rubble the bodies of two young boys - four and six years old - and a seven-year-old girl.

(Reporting by Mike McDonald; Editing by Vicki Allen)