Bad rainy season leaves dozens dead in Central America

October 4, 2017

An unusually intense rainy season in Central America has left dozens dead and thousands more affected by damaged or destroyed homes and roads.

Weather observatories said precipitation in September and October – usually the wettest period of the five-month-long season – were 25 to 50 percent heavier than average in the rainiest zones. The worst-hit country in the region was Honduras, where 32 people have died, according to national emergency service officials.

Guatemala suffered 26 deaths, officials said, adding that more than 300,000 people were also affected, with 6,000 evacuations. In all, 4,000 homes were damaged along with 110 roads, and 14 bridges were destroyed, they said.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales told a news conference on Tuesday that his government was considering declaring a state of emergency in the worst-affected zones to ease budget restrictions on aid.

In El Salvador, six people died and a national alert urging vigilance was issued last week.

Among the dead were four members of the same family who were swept away by a mudslide that engulfed their home just south of the capital San Salvador.

Although the rains are intense, and in some cases deadly, they are still within what is considered a “normal” range, the head of El Salvador’s state weather service, Luis Garcia, said.

In Panama, a mudslide on Saturday killed six people in an indigenous area. The country was under a rain and storm warning up until Tuesday.

In Nicaragua, at least 200 homes were flooded in dozens of towns, including the capital.

“Thank God we did not lose lives,” Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo said. She added that three people were killed by lightning strikes, but that officials were not linking their deaths to the rain and flooding.

In Costa Rica there were no reports of deaths, but several roads and bridges were damaged, and rockslides blocked access to some villages. Shelters had taken in 249 people whose homes were flooded, according to the National Emergency Commission (CNE).

The unusually heavy rainy season followed two uncommonly seasons of light precipitation caused by the cyclical El Niño weather phenomenon.

The CNE declared a Red Alert on Wednesday for the Pacific region, Northern Zone and Central Valley as a new tropical depression enters the area, with a yellow alert for the Caribbean zone. Residents of the red alert areas are urged to use extreme caution, particularly when traveling, in areas vulnerable to flooding or landslides, and in coastal areas where strong waves can be expected.

“We want to reassure the national community that all our institutions are aligned,” President Luis Guillermo Solís said at a meeting at the CNE Wednesday. “We will continue to monitor the situation.”

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