FLOODING and landslides from the season’s first tropical storm have killed at least 131 people in Central America, officials said.
Dozens are still missing, thousands have lost homes and emergency crews are struggling to reach isolated communities cut off by washed-out roads and collapsed bridges caused by Tropical Storm Agatha.
The sun emerged yesterday in hardest-hit Guatemala, where official counts reported 108 dead and 53 missing.
In the department or province of Chimaltenango – a province west of Guatemala City – landslides buried dozens of rural Indian communities and killed at least 60 people, Governor 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.”
President Alvaro Colom said on Sunday that during a single 12-hour period, 10.8cm fell in Guatemala City’s valley. In all about 110,000 people were evacuated in the country.
Thousands more have fled their homes in neighbouring Honduras, where the death toll rose to 14 even as 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, at least 140 landslides have been reported and 11,000 people were evacuated. The death toll was nine, President Mauricio Funes said.
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.
Agatha made landfall near the Guatemala-Mexico border on Saturday as a tropical storm with winds up to 75km/h. 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 8000 missing and unaccounted for.
Rescue efforts in Guatemala have been complicated by a volcanic eruption on Thursday near the capital that blanketed parts of the area with ash and closed the country’s main airport. Officials are now allowing helicopters and propeller planes to take off, but commercial flights remain grounded.