Agatha leaves at least 12 dead in Guatemala
Torrential rains brought by the first tropical storm of the 2010 season pounded Guatemala and southern Mexico, triggering deadly landslides. The death toll stood at 12 early Sunday but authorities said the number could rise.world Updated: May 30, 2010 12:47 IST
Torrential rains brought by the first tropical storm of the 2010 season pounded Guatemala and southern Mexico, triggering deadly landslides. The death toll stood at 12 early Sunday but authorities said the number could rise.
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 as it pushed inland. But authorities warned that trouble was far from over as the remnants of Agatha continued to dump rain on vulnerable hillside and riverside settlements in Guatemala and southern Mexico.
"It has been downgraded to a tropical depression, but this means that the velocity of the wind has fallen, not the amount of rain," Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said late Saturday, adding 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 the past 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.
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 (10 kilometers) outside the Guatemalan capital. And in the department of Quetzaltenango, 125 miles (200 kilometers) 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.
Cesar George of Guatemala's meteorological institute said the community of Champerico had received 30 centimeters (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 (55 kph), but could still bring 10 to 20 inches of rain.
The center of the storm was located 25 miles (45 kilometers) 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.