More death feared as rain pummels Central America
SAN SALVADOR — Civil Defense officials across Central America were on high alert Monday as heavy rain that has pounded the region for more than a week showed no sign of relenting.
More than 80 people have been killed over the past week in mudslides and flooding across in the mountainous region, home to 42 million people. Rain-swollen rivers have destroyed bridges and damaged highways, while flooding has destroyed crops and damaged thousands of homes.
The toll is expected to rise as reports from isolated villages begin to trickle in -- and in the coming days officials fear more mudslides from rain-saturated soil, food shortages in faraway towns, and health problems due to water-borne diseases.
Those killed include 32 in El Salvador, 29 in Guatemala, 13 in Honduras and eight in Nicaragua, according to local officials.
"Climate change is not something that is coming in the future, we are already suffering its effects," said Raul Artiga with the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD).
Hard-hit El Salvador on Monday launched a worldwide appeal for humanitarian assistance due to the intense rain.
In El Salvador, at least 10 bridges have collapsed and another 10 show serious damage, while 14 highways have serious damage, according to a preliminary report.
Public Works Minister Gerson Martinez estimated the damages at "several million dollars."
El Salvador has experienced record rainfall of 1.2 meters (four feet) in one week, shattering the record set by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
In Guatemala, Vice President Rafael Espada said that rivers were dangerously swollen. "We are doing what we can to provide aid for the victims," he said.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo declared a state of emergency in the south of his country, while Nicaraguan kept a close eye on Lake Xolotlan, fearing it could flood into the capital Managua.
The United Nations considers Central America one of the regions of the world most affected by climate change. Over the past 40 years natural catastrophes have killed some 50,000 people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, according to studies from European and Latin American universities.
A report from the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) forecast heavy economic losses due to climate change in Central America.
In El Salvador, areas affected include Joya de Ceren, the ruins of a 6th century Maya city that UNESCO has declared a World Heritage Site.
"We weren't expecting this, there has been a lot of destruction in areas of archaeological ruins," said the director of Cultural Patrimony, Ramon Rivas.
Meteorologists say the rain is from two different low-pressure weather systems, the first from the Pacific and the second from the Caribbean, and will continue at least until Wednesday morning.
However starting Thursday they say a cold front from the north will sweep the region.
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