El Salvador + 2 more

Nicaragua Declares Emergency After Downpours

By Benjamin Blanco

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaragua declared a state of emergency Sunday after two weeks of torrential rain in Central America plunged areas barely recovered from the devastation last year of Hurricane Mitch into further misery.

Nicaragua's National Emergency Committee announced a red alert, which mobilizes rescue workers, opens refuges and allows the authorities to distribute food packages, after the death count from flash floods and mudslides rose to 11.

Nearly 4,000 people have been driven from their homes, the committee said, and over 20 poor neighborhoods of Managua, the capital, have had to be evacuated because of the rise of Lake Managua.

In impoverished Honduras to the north, which last week declared a state of emergency because of downpours that began mid-September, the death count rose Sunday to 28 while 12,000 people were homeless, the authorities said. Juan Guevara, mayor of Choluteca, 69 miles south of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, said floodwaters had damaged a bridge, severing the Panamerican highway on which most Central American commerce is transported.

''One end of the bridge is under water and now we have to extend it by 20 meters, which will take a week,'' Guevara said.

The bridge was a temporary structure put up after Hurricane Mitch at the end of last October swept the original one away. Mitch killed 10,000 in its rampage through Central America, striking Honduras and Nicaragua particularly viciously.

Honduran President Carlos Flores has urged the international community to help the region. The economy of this nation of 6.3 million, where many earn just a dollar a day, is likely to be further undermined by the current floods, financial analysts say.

In Mexico, meanwhile, local media reported the southeastern state of Tabasco and the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz had also put emergency procedures into operation, preparing to evacuate homes as rivers swelled and broke their banks.

Newspapers reported three dead in Veracruz, where some town were flooded 3.3 feet (one meter) deep by muddy floodwaters.

''Our priority is to save lives, which is why we urge the population to remain alert and listen to the announcements of the Civil Protection System,'' Tabasco official Martha Martinez Castillo said, according to government news agency Notimex.

She added that water levels in rivers in the state were the highest recorded in the past 40 years.

In El Salvador, where a state of emergency has also been declared and where eight people have died, President Francisco Flores appealed Sunday for people evacuated from their homes not to return until the danger was over.

''Don't go back because there's still the danger of more rain. I appeal to you to be patient and wait until we lift the state of alert,'' he said in a radio broadcast.

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