Mexico landslides toll past 50

September 8, 2010 12:00 am

, GUATEMALA CITY,  Sep 8 – The toll from the heaviest rains in living memory in Guatemala and Mexico rose above 50, as Guatemalan officials called off the search for 15 more corpses over safety fears.

Mexican authorities said three workers cleaning a drainage system in the center of the country had been buried by rocks and mud dislodged from a nearby hill, taking the toll there to at least seven after a week of downpours.

In Guatemala, where at least 45 people died over the weekend, rescuers had just resumed the grim task of digging for bodies in a ravine next to the Pan-American Highway when officials decided the sodden terrain was unsafe.

"The search has been called off because of the condition of the ground," said David de Leon, a spokesman for the government\’s emergency management office CONRED.

Many of Guatemala\’s dead perished Saturday when dozens of rescuers were buried alive as they tried to find victims of an earlier landslide that swept a bus and five other vehicles off the highway.

Only 25 of the 40 people believed to have been buried at the site have been retrieved.

"We brought shovels and spades and we were starting to help when another landslide came," said Manuel Sohom, who lost his 15-year-old son.

They were only a few meters away from each other but "it all happened so fast we didn\’t have time to do anything," he said, through tears.

"The mud covered me up to my chest and I was able to get out, but the others were completely buried and my son remained under the earth."

The rains triggered almost 200 landslides and collapses, causing at least 500 million dollars worth of damage, according to the government, which ordered three days of national mourning and declared a state of emergency.

President Alvaro Colom said Sunday that the impact of the heaviest rains in 60 years would be worse due to a shortage of government funds after Tropical Storm Agatha, which killed 165 people and left thousands homeless in May.

On Tuesday, he riled against opposition lawmakers for holding up a 163-million-dollar emergency funding bill to rebuild the country after the devastating rains.

Colom called on Guatemalans to "pull together in dealing with the emergency and reconstruction efforts, and later to create a culture respectful of the environment, to reduce the impact of natural catastrophes."

In Washington, the United States said it has requested 50,000 dollars in emergency aid for flood-hit Guatemala and reprogrammed another 4.38 million dollars in economic aid for recovery efforts.

The United Nations said it would send 20,000 food rations to help those affected by the floods.

After Guatemala, it was Mexico\’s turn to suffer as the torrential rains moved north, affecting some 600,000 people in the south and east of the country, according to the Mexican authorities.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the recent series of tropical storms had provoked the heaviest rains ever recorded in the southeastern state of Tabasco.

"The past months of July and August have seen the highest amount of rain recorded in all history, either memorized or recorded," Calderon said during a visit to the region.

Rainfall was more than three and a half times the average for those months, he said, blaming the situation on climate change.

Calderon also warned citizens to brace for more bad weather since the rainy season in Tabasco traditionally ramps up in October and November and even into December.

Tropical Storm Hermine, meanwhile, slammed into far northeastern Mexico and then barreled into US territory early Tuesday, threatening storm surges, flash floods and tornadoes on both sides of the border.

Other countries hit with recent flooding and mudslides included Honduras, where floods killed 55 people, Nicaragua, where 40 people died and El Salvador, where nine people were killed.



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