October 5, 2005

Central America, Mexico hit by mudslides; 117 dead

By Mario Linares

TECPAN, Guatemala (Reuters) - Huge mudslides, flooding and
torrential rains from Hurricane Stan have killed at least 117
people in Central America and southern Mexico, rescue workers
said on Wednesday.

Relentless rain pounded mountain villages and urban shanty
towns across the impoverished region, and hillsides collapsed
under the weight of four days of downpours.

The death toll nearly doubled on Wednesday when rivers
burst their banks in southern Mexico, and emergency teams found
another 42 people buried under several feet of mud in remote
Guatemalan towns.

Unconfirmed reports said hundreds may have died in an
isolated region of western Guatemala.

Entire families were missing after a river of mud, trees
and rocks descended on the hill town of Tecpan, west of the
capital, destroying more than 30 flimsy homes.

"A lot of people could not get out," said Samuel Cif, a
local peasant.

Two dead children were found and villagers were too scared
of more landslides to dig through the quagmire for other

Clothes, trees and the roofs of house were strewn around
and heavy rain still pounded the area.

The tragedy brought back memories of Hurricane Mitch, which
killed some 10,000 people in 1998 in Central America, mainly in
Honduras and Nicaragua, with mudslides and flooding.

Stan dumped about half the amount of water on Guatemala in
five days that Mitch deposited in only three days,
meteorologists said.


"I was like a worm sliding around in the mud," said
Alexander Flores, whose home on the edge of San Salvador was
buried under six feet of dirt and rocks.

"I just heard two shouts from my mother, saying, 'Alex,
Alex,' maybe for me to help her or her trying to save me," he
said. His mother and five children died, including a newborn
baby, he said.

Fifty people have now been killed in both El Salvador and
Guatemala, including the latest deaths, and another 17 total in
Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras, authorities said.

Swollen rivers washed away three large concrete bridges and
ripped apart houses and buildings when they burst their banks
at the city of Tapachula, in Mexico's Chiapas state.

"There is flooding, in some communities mudslides; there is
no access by road, no telephone communication," said Jordan
Jimenez of Mexico's civil protection agency in Chiapas. "There
are people missing, some in shelters."

Looters wandered into a hotel damaged by the raging river
Coatan in Tapachula and carried away office equipment and

Tree trunks washed downriver lay beside cars, a
refrigerator and dead carp fish by the riverside.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in Chiapas and
the neighboring state of Veracruz after Stan, now reduced to a
tropical depression, swept in from the Atlantic this week.

It came ashore on Tuesday near the city of Veracruz as a
Category One hurricane with winds of nearly 80 mph (128 kph).

Greenpeace said the flooding in Mexico was made worse by
deforestation, as water rushed down bare hillsides.

"Once again, this underlines the importance of conserving
eco-systems, particularly forests and mangroves, to prevent the
impact of hurricanes," the environmentalist group said.

In Veracruz state, the storm blew the roofs off shacks,
injuring four people, and forced hundreds to evacuate when
rivers overflowed.

"How am I going to buy my things back?" said Sebastiana
Jimenez, 48, looking into her flooded shack made out of plastic
and wood scraps in the colonial port city of Veracruz.

Mexico's three main oil exporting ports, on the Gulf of
Mexico, reopened after closing as Stan approached.

(Additional reporting by Kieran Murray, Miguel Angel
Gonzalez and Noel Randewich in Mexico)