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Tropical storm thrashes Central America, leaving scores dead

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-31

The first tropical storm of the season in the Americas has left at least 96 dead in Guatemala and El Salvador and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, amid flash floods and mudslides triggered by heavy rains, officials said Sunday.

REUTERS - The remnants of Tropical Storm Agatha dumped more rain across Central America on Sunday after killing at least 96 people in the region, sparking fears of further mudslides in three countries.

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.

More than 80,000 people, mostly in Guatemala, have fled their homes, according to official data.

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, a town 90 miles (160 km) 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.

"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.

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.

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 (1 metre) 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.

Damage to coffee unknown

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.

The volcano, which erupted on Thursday, forced the closure of the country'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.

The volcano, 25 miles (40 km) south of Guatemala City, is close to some of Guatemala's most prized coffee plantations.

Coffee farms around the volcano reported some damage to plants but other areas were still out of contact, a spokeswoman for Anacafe, the national coffee association said.

"There is some defoliation and some of the beans have been damaged, but right now we are still working to determine the effect on the crop," Anacafe's Nancy Mendez told Reuters.

El Salvador's coffee association said poor communications had prevented it from investigating any crop damage.

 

Date created : 2010-05-31

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