Central America death toll rises in heavy rains; five drown in Costa Rica

October 19, 2011

More than 90 people were counted dead Tuesday from heavy rains pounding Central America after Guatemala reported more people swept away by raging floodwaters and Costa Rica found four drowned.

An estimated 700,000 people were displaced by floods and landslides following as much as 120 centimeters (47 inches) of rain in the past week in some areas – three times the monthly average this season – officials said.

In Guatemala, five more deaths were reported, including four swept away, bringing the death toll to 34 over the past week in a nation that has been hit particularly hard in 2011 by flooding and heavy rains, officials said.

The mayor of the northern Guatemala community of Mixco, Amilcar Rivera, reported the four new deaths and warned the toll may rise further.

U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon said the diplomatic mission would offer the use of six helicopters used in anti-narcotics efforts for search and rescue operations in Guatemala. The envoy said $50,000 in humanitarian aid would also be offered.

In Costa Rica, Red Cross officials reported five people had drowned across the country, with the victims attempting to cross swollen rivers.

Authorities have gone on high alert across the mountainous region, home to 42 million people, as the rains have shown no sign of abating.

The unusually heavy rainfall came as the region was pounded from one weather system from the Pacific and another from the Caribbean.

El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes warned late Monday that his country was facing a “major emergency,” with 32 dead, three missing and some 32,000 people evacuated, saying the rainfall exceeded that caused by past hurricanes.

“The intensity of the rainfall, the duration of the phenomenon and the extent of the affected territory presents us with a major emergency,” he said.

Another 13 deaths were reported in Honduras and eight in Nicaragua, according to local officials, with the overall toll expected to rise as reports from isolated villages begin to trickle in.

Officials also fear further casualties from fresh mudslides, shortages of basic goods in isolated towns and disease spawned by the stagnant water.

Hard-hit El Salvador has launched a worldwide appeal for humanitarian assistance due to the intense rain.

Aid has already begun pouring in from Taiwan, Spain, the United States, Venezuela and a host of other countries, Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez told a press conference, adding that Taipei had donated some $300,000 in flood relief.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo declared a state of emergency in the south of his country, and in Guatemala, Vice President Rafael Espada said rivers were dangerously swollen.

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega also declared a state of emergency for his country, where some 134,000 people were affected and officials feared Lake Xolotlan could overflow and flood the capital Managua.

The United Nations considers Central America one of the world regions most affected by climate change. Over the past 40 years, natural disasters have killed some 50,000 people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, according to European and Latin American studies.

Meteorologists say the rain is caused by two different low-pressure weather systems, the first from the Pacific and the second from the Caribbean, and will continue at least until Wednesday morning.

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