Over 80 Dead as Heavy Rain Batters Central America

Heavy rains pounded Central America on Tuesday, where more than 80 people have died in mudslides and flooding over the past week as swollen rivers destroyed bridges and submerged roads.

Authorities have gone on high alert across the mountainous region, home to 42 million people, as the rains have shown no sign of abating.

El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes warned late Monday that his country was facing a "major emergency," with 32 dead, three missing and some 32,000 people evacuated.

"The intensity of the rainfall, the duration of the phenomenon and the extent of the affected territory presents us with a major emergency," he said.

Another 29 people have died in Guatemala, 13 in Honduras and eight in Nicaragua, according to local officials, with the overall toll expected to rise as reports from isolated villages begin to trickle in.

Officials also fear further casualties from fresh mudslides, shortages of basic goods in isolated towns and disease spawned by stagnant water.

Hard-hit El Salvador on Monday launched a worldwide appeal for humanitarian assistance due to the intense rain.

Aid has already begun pouring in from Taiwan, Spain, the United States, Venezuela and a host of other countries, Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez told a press conference, adding Taipei had donated some $300,000 in flood relief.

Alarm bells were ringing over a pending malnutrition crisis throughout the poverty-stricken region after heavy rains washed away crops in areas where thousands of families rely on small-scale farming for their nutrition needs.

Flooding and landslides killed more than 300 people in Central America, left tens of thousands homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage in 2010.

Officials have blamed the effects of global warming for the spate of deadly rains and flooding.

"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).

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.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo declared a state of emergency in the south of his country, and in Guatemala, Vice President Rafael Espada said rivers were dangerously swollen.

Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega also declared a state of emergency for his country, where some 134,000 people were affected and officials feared Lake Xolotlan could overflow and flood 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 disasters 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 U.N.'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.

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.

Source: Agence France Presse

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