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Central America Hit Hard by Floods, Landslides

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Ten days of downpours in Central America have killed 123 people in floods and landslides, and disrupted the lives of more than a million.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have declared states of emergency, and the United Nations approved an emergency grant of $50,000 for relief in El Salvador, the country worst hit by the rains.

There 34 people have died, 52,000 have been evacuated, and more than 150,000 residents have been affected by the floods, the Associated Press reported Friday. The Grande and Lempa rivers have flooded farmlands and houses in the western part of the country, causing millions in economic losses, and four bridges have been destroyed, including one connecting El Salvador with Guatemala.

Much of the deluge came from a low-pressure Pacific weather system with an innocuous name, “Tropical Depression E-12.”

La Prensa Gráfica reported that the sun came out Thursday in El Salvador after nine days of rain, but risks still remain.

The country’s director of civil protection, Jorge Meléndez, said earlier this week that the national state of emergency remains in force, as the soil is saturated with water, posing the danger of landslides. And the vice minister of natural resources, Linda Pohl, warned there could be more flooding and washouts, the AP reported.

“Never before, never, has it rained like in this month of October,” she said.

Her boss, German Rosa Chávez, called the situation “a great disaster” on Thursday, linking it directly to climate change.

El Salvador has had significantly more rain fall now than during Hurricane Mitch, though that 1998 storm killed about 11,000 people across the region.

“I want to tell the world that El Salvador is going through one of the most dramatic disasters in its history,” President Mauricio Funes said on national radio and television Wednesday night as he appealed for international aid.

Nearly 55,000 people are staying in just over 600 shelters, Meléndez said Friday.

In Guatemala 38 people have died, nearly 30,000 have been evacuated, and more than half a million have been affected by the rains, according to its emergency management agency.

On Wednesday Guatemala’s government canceled la Vuelta a Guatemala, a cycling race that is one of the country’s biggest sporting events, which was to start this Sunday.

The U.S. said it would give $50,000 in humanitarian aid to Guatemala, and Taiwan has donated $300,000 to Guatemala and $200,000 to Honduras, where 18 people have died, according to the AP. The death toll is 13 in Nicaragua. The rains have been less intense in Costa Rica and Mexico, but still five people have died in Costa Rica trying to cross swollen rivers, according to reports there.

With floodwaters turning stagnant, health concerns are mounting, and the World Health Organization has sent a monitoring team to Nicaragua to check out possible new cases of the H1N1 flu virus.

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About Edward B. Colby