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Mudslides, rain leave 70 dead in Central America

October 17, 2011

The death toll from rains and mudslides across Central America rose Sunday to more than 70, including at least nine people killed when the collapse of a hillside in El Salvador wiped out five dwellings, officials said.

International highways have been washed out, villages isolated and thousands of families have lost homes and crops in a region the United Nations has classified as one of the most affected by climate change.

Hardest hit were Guatemala, where 28 people were reported dead and two others were missing, and El Salvador, with at least 27 dead after five days of intense rains unleashed by a stubbornly persistent tropical depression.

“We’ve got a very complicated situation,” said El Salvador’s Environment Minister Herman Rosa Chávez, who said 15 centimeters of rain over a 12-hour period had made the country’s mountainous terrain unstable.

In Ciudad Arce, 40 kilometers west of the capital, a 100-meter-high hillside came down on five houses, killing at least nine people, officials said.

Rescuers frantically searched for survivors, retrieving the bodies of at least one child and two adults, an AFP photographer said.

“There’s been more water than ever seen in the history of Ciudad Arce,” said Roberto Miranda, a local emergency coordinator, speaking on Salvadoran radio.

Jorge Meléndez, head of the country’s civil protection agency, said most of the deaths in El Salvador were caused by mudslides.

In Guatemala, President Álvaro Colom declared a state of emergency after the death toll there reached 28 after five days of heavy rains.

In the most recent incident, a mudslide buried five members of a single family inside a house in Boca del Monte, Villa Canales, 18 km south of Guatemala City.

In Honduras, authorities raised the official death toll to 12 after a night of unrelenting rains that turned creek beds into raging torrents in the populous mountain valley where Tegucigalpa is situated.

In Nicaragua, the civil defense agency ordered the evacuation of the slopes of Casita Volcano, which experienced deadly landslides in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch.

First Lady Rosario Murillo said seven people have been killed in Nicaragua and more than 8,000 affected by the rains.

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