Crazy pictures available here.
The death toll in Guatemala due to landslides caused by tropical storm “Agatha” has risen to 93, according to an official count. Forty-nine victims were buried by a landslide in the department of Chimaltenango, about 40 miles west of the capital city. It is feared that more people will be found dead in remote villages that cling to sides of mountains and in precarious barrancos.
The storm swept into Central America and southern Mexico over the May 29-30 weekend, affecting Guatemala most severely but also neighboring El Salvador and Honduras. All told, at least 113 people are dead in the Central American isthmus and at least 50 people are reported missing in Guatemala alone. In one case, a Guatemalan family lost all four of their children to a mudslide triggered by the storm. Nine people were confirmed killed in El Salvador and 12 in Honduras.
However, according to an unofficial count the dead were at least 200. The tropical storm immediately followed an eruption of a volcano named Pacaya near Guatemala City, which spewed hot rocks and sand while lava flows sent families fleeing for their lives. Villages on the edge of the volcano have evacuated as residents are still pouring into make-shift shelters and centers set up by the national government. Residents fear that their few possessions will be pilfered by robbers emboldened by the chaos.
From Caritas Guatemala, a Catholic charitable organization, is providing aid to families stricken by the dual disaster. President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala has said that the government’s emergency response is designed to provide aid to survivors of landslides and mudslides, as well as to thousands homeless. The President reported that the government’s action proceeds by assigning priority to the communities most in need.
The latest report on damages and casualties announced that 74,777 people have fled their homes, 17,101 have found accommodation at 123 hostels, 2,912 homes are damaged, and there are very serious damages reported in 842 cases. President Colom announced that most of the country’s roads are damaged or blocked, keeping aid from reaching communities, although the Civil Aeronautics authorized flights of helicopters and airplanes that do not use turbines. The international airport at Guatemala City was closed as of May 31.
In downtown Guatemala City and Chimaltenango, the intense rains and poor drainage system have caused immense sink holes to appear. In one case in Guatemala City, a three storey building was swallowed up completely by the maw of a 180-foot deep sink hole, taking the life of at least one person. The sink hole is 90 feet wide. The bottom of the sink hole is not visible from its edge. A similar sinkhole appeared in 2007 in a nearby neighborhood and is also attributed to the city’s antiquated drainage system and the limestone geology of the area.
A team of Cuban doctors for several years offering their services to the rural population and the support of U.S. helicopters are some of the first aid received from the international community in the emergency, President Colom said. Caritas Guatemala has started collecting food items and funds to assist victims.