The Heat Is Online

Torrential Rains Leave at least 15 Dead in Guatemala, Mexico

Central America floods, mudslides kill 142

More than 110,000 in Guatemala flee as first storm of season lashes region

The Associated Press, June 1, 2010

GUATEMALA CITY - Flooding and landslides from the season's first tropical storm have killed at least 145 people and made thousands homeless in Central America, officials said Monday.

Dozens of people were missing and emergency crews struggled to reach isolated communities cut off by washed-out roads and collapsed bridges caused by Tropical Storm Agatha.

The sun emerged Monday in hardest-hit Guatemala, where officials reported 120 dead and at least 53 missing. In the department of Chimaltenango — a province west of Guatemala City — landslides buried dozens of rural Indian communities and killed at least 60 people, Gov. Erick de Leon said.

"The department has collapsed," de Leon said. "There are a lot of dead people. The roads are blocked. The shelters are overflowing. We need water, food, clothes, blankets — but above all, money."

In the tiny village of Parajbei, a slide smothered three homes and killed 11 people.

"It was raining really hard and there was a huge noise," said Vicente Azcaj, 56, who ran outside and saw that a hill had crumbled. "Now everyone is afraid that the same will happen to their homes."

Volunteers from nearby villages worked nonstop since Sunday to recover the bodies in Parajbei, and on Monday they found the last two: brothers, 4 and 8 years old, who were buried under tons of dirt, rocks and trees.

As a thank-you, rescuers got a plate of rice and beans from the mayor of nearby Santa Apolonia.

"It's a small thing, but it comes from the heart," Tulio Nunez told them through a translator.

Nunez said he worried about the well-being of survivors in the area because landslides blocked roads and broke water pipes.

"They don't have anything to drink," he said.

In all some 110,000 people were evacuated in Guatemala.
Thousands more fled their homes in neighboring Honduras, where the death toll rose to 15 while meteorologists predicted three more days of rain.

Two dams near the capital of Tegucigalpa overflowed into a nearby river, and officials warned people to stay away from swollen waterways.

"The risk is enormous," Mayor Ricardo Alvarez said.

In El Salvador, 11,000 people were evacuated. The death toll rose to 10 and two others were missing, President Mauricio Funes said Monday night.

About 95 percent of the country's roads were affected by landslides, but most remained open, Transportation Minister Gerson Martinez said. He said 179 bridges had been wrecked.

The Lempa River, which flows to the Pacific, topped its banks and flooded at least 20 villages, affecting some 6,000 people, said Jorge Melendez, director of the Civil Protection Agency.

Officials warned that the Acelhuate River, which cuts through San Salvador, was running at dangerously high levels and threatened to spill over into the capital's streets.

Melendez said classes would be suspended Tuesday in all primary and secondary schools and public and private universities across El Salvador.

Agatha made landfall near the Guatemala-Mexico border Saturday as a tropical storm with winds up to 45 mph. It dissipated the following day over the mountains of western Guatemala.

The rising death toll is reminding nervous residents of Hurricane Mitch, which hovered over Central America for days in 1998, causing flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 11,000 people and left more than 8,000 missing and unaccounted for.

Rescue efforts in Guatemala have been complicated by a volcanic eruption Thursday near the capital that blanketed parts of the area with ash.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Central America floods, mudslides kill 96

More than 110,000 in Guatemala flee as first storm of season lashes region news services, May 31, 2010

GUATEMALA CITY - The remnants of Tropical Storm Agatha dumped more rain across Central America on Sunday after killing nearly 100 people throughout the region and forcing more than 110,000 to flee their homes in Guatemala alone.
Agatha, the first named storm of the 2010 Pacific hurricane season, slammed into the Guatemalan coast near the border with Mexico on Saturday.
At least 83 people died in Guatemala, President Alvaro Colom told a news conference on Sunday night.
"We have suffered many personal misfortunes ... but from now we enter a transition stage where we attend to the people in the shelters," Colom said.
Reuters reported that 96 people died in Central America, and The Associated Press put the number at 99.  Discrepancies are common in the immediate aftermath of such disasters.
As of Sunday evening, 112,000 people in Guatemala had been evacuated, many to shelters.
The storm dissipated overnight as it crossed the western mountains of Guatemala but emergency workers warned residents to expect heavy rain for several more days.
Appeal for aid
Guatemala's government appealed to donors for aid and officials warned more victims may be found.
A dozen or more people were believed killed in San Antonio Palopo on the steep banks of Lake Atitlan, a popular tourist attraction about 90 miles southeast of the capital, Guatemala City, after a huge mudslide engulfed an entire neighborhood.
"There was a mudslide that wiped out homes, trees and everything in its path," said a man who gave his name on local radio as Luis, Reuters reported.  "We have found 14 bodies and we think there are another eight to 10 beneath the mud."
Rescue workers throughout the region scrambled to restore communications to cut-off towns and villages, fearing more victims may be found.
The intense rainfall has sparked concern over the condition of the coffee crop in Guatemala, the region's biggest producer, as well as in El Salvador, where the rains fell heaviest in the principal coffee-growing area.

Swollen rivers burst their banks and mudslides buried homes in towns and cities alike. A highway bridge near Guatemala City was swept away and sinkholes opened up in the capital where many neighborhoods remained without electricity.
More than 3 feet of rain fell in parts of the country, the government said.

Nine people were killed in El Salvador and four others died in Honduras, including a woman who was electrocuted as she was helped from her flooded home, officials said.
Central America is vulnerable to heavy rains due to mountainous terrain and poor communications in rural areas. Last November's Hurricane Ida caused flooding and mudslides that killed at least 150 people as it moved past the region.
Guatemalan officials warned the flooding from the storm could be worsened by ash spewing out of the Pacaya volcano that has blocked drainage systems.
Volcano eruption
The volcano, which erupted on Thursday, forced the closure of Guatemala's main international airport. Aviation officials said it would remain closed to commercial flights until Tuesday but was now open to aircraft delivering aid.
The eruption at Pacaya, which has been active since the 1960s but had not ejected ash and rock since 1998, subsided further on Sunday, officials said.
In El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes warned that the danger had not yet passed.

"Although the storm appears to be diminishing in intensity, the situation across the country remains critical," Funes told The Associated Press.

In Honduras, eight deaths were linked to the weather, the AP reported.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami warned that remnants of the storm were expected to deliver 10 to 20 inches of rain over southeastern Mexico, Guatemala and parts of El Salvador.

Nervous residents still remember Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which parked over Central America for days, causing flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 11,000 people and left more than 8,000 missing.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Deadly storm lashes Guatemala, Mexico

Officials say at least 15 die after torrential rains spark mudslides

The Associated Press, May 30, 2010

GUATEMALA CITY - Torrential rains brought by the first tropical storm of the 2010 season pounded Central America and southern Mexico, triggering deadly landslides. The death toll stood at 15 Sunday but authorities said the number could rise.

Tropical Storm Agatha made landfall near the border of Guatemala and Mexico on Saturday as a tropical storm with wind speeds of up to 45 mph (75 kph), then weakened into a tropical depression before dissipating over the mountains of western Guatemala.

Although no longer even a tropical depression, Agatha still posed trouble for the region: Remnants of the storm were expected to deliver from 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 centimeters) of rain over southeastern Mexico, Guatemala and parts of El Salvador, creating the possibility of "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said in an advisory Sunday.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said Saturday night that the rivers in the country's south were flooding or close to it.

Colom said 10.8 centimeters (4.3 inches) of rain had fallen in Guatemala City's valley in 12 hours, the most since 1949.

As of Saturday night, 4,300 people were in shelters and authorities said the number could rise as figures come in from around the country.
Landslides fatal
Earlier Saturday, Agatha's rains caused a landslide on a hillside settlement in Guatemala City that killed four people and left 11 missing,

Guatemalan disaster relief spokesman David de Leon said. Most of the city was without electricity at nightfall, complicating search efforts.
Four children were killed by another mudslide in the town of Santa Catarina Pinula about six miles outside the Guatemalan capital. And in the department of Quetzaltenango, 125 miles west of Guatemala City, a boulder loosened by rains crushed a house, killing two children and two adults, de Leon said.

Calls to local radio stations told of many more landslides and possible deaths but those reports could not be immediately confirmed.
A three-story building in northern Guatemala City fell into a sinkhole but there were no reports of victims.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes offered to receive international aid at airports near their shared borders with Guatemala.

Month's worth of rain
Cesar George of Guatemala's meteorological institute said the community of Champerico had received 11.8 inches of rain in the past 30 hours.

"It rained in one day what it usually gets in a month," George said.

Colom said authorities have not been able to reach Champerico by "air, land or sea."

Agatha formed as a tropical storm early Saturday in the East Pacific and moved over land in the evening along the Guatemala-Mexico border, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The center said Agatha had weakened into a tropical depression with winds of 35 mph, but could still bring 10 to 20 inches of rain.

The center of the storm was located 25 miles east-northeast of Tapachula on Saturday night.

Before the rains, Guatemala already was contending with heavy eruptions from its Pacaya volcano that have blanketed the capital in ash and destroyed 800 homes.

The Pacaya volcano, which is just south of the capital, started spewing lava and rocks Thursday afternoon, forcing the closure of Guatemala City's international airport. A TV reporter was killed by a shower of burning rocks.

In El Salvador, authorities began evacuating hundreds of families in areas at risk for landslides and flooding, suspending fishing and tourism along the Pacific coast.

Five days of steady rainfall has swollen a major river flowing through the capital, San Salvador.

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