GUATEMALA – Natural disaster has again struck this country, where strong rains that have fallen since Thursday have killed at least 37 people, left 40 missing and affected more than 40,000.
The spokesman for the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED), David de León, told EFE news service that the majority of deaths occurred in landslides.
By Sunday afternoon, rescue workers had found 21 bodies amid tons of mud and rocks from a landslide at kilometer 171 of the Inter-American Highway, at the Summit of Alaska in the department of Totonicapán. The landslide occurred Saturday night.
Although preliminary reports from rescue corps speculated that more than one hundred people were buried at the site, CONRED reduced the figure of those missing to between 35 and 40.
According to De León, the resumption of strong rains forced workers to suspend rescue work at the site. These are expected to resume Monday.
The bodies of 12 of those killed were taken to the community of Santa Catarina Ixtahucán, where they lived and where they will be buried Monday.
As a result of the rains, CONRED reported Sunday that 30,500 people remain at risk, 41,865 have been directly affected, 10,162 have been evacuated to secure locations and 6,996 taken to temporary shelters.
The rains have also destroyed bridges and roads, caused more than 80 landslides of various sizes, ruined crops and flooded hundreds of homes.
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom declared a “national emergency” on Saturday because of the rains. He quantified the damages at between $375 and $500 million, and asked parliament to approve an increase in this year’s national budget and a temporary tax he referred to as a “reconstruction bond” to cover the costs of the emergency.
“It’s painful that it’s the poorest people who pay the costs of natural disasters,” Colom said, as he asked citizens to collaborate with rescue workers and to abstain from leaving their homes to avoid greater losses.
According to the National Seismological, Volcanological, Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, the rains are the result of a low pressure system to the north, which will continue to affect the country through Monday.
Tropical storm Agatha, which affected the country at the beginning of June, killed 174 people, affected more than a million others and caused damage to infrastructure and crops quantified by the government at more than $975.