October 5, 2005

Hurricane Stan kills 162 in Mexico and Central America

By Mario Linares

TECPAN, Guatemala (Reuters) - Huge mudslides, flooding and
torrential rains from Hurricane Stan have killed at least 162
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 four days of downpours.

The death toll more than doubled on Wednesday when rivers
burst their banks in southern Mexico, and emergency teams found
dozens more victims buried under banks of mud in remote
Guatemalan towns.

By the evening, the death toll in Guatemala stood at 79
people, but the government said that figure could rise.
Unconfirmed reports said hundreds may have been killed in an
isolated region in the west of the country.

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 for other victims. Clothing, trees
and the roofs of houses 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 half the amount of water on Guatemala in five
days that Mitch brought in only three, 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, including a newborn baby,
all died, he said.

Along with the 79 dead in Guatemala, 62 people have been
killed in El Salvador and another 21 total in Mexico, Nicaragua
and Honduras, authorities said.

Coffee production was likely to be hit in Guatemala and
Honduras just as the harvest is beginning, producers 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.

"My house was here," said Dr. Rosenberg Arias, pointing
into the Coatan River. "And that was my grandmother's house,
and that was my neighbor's house. Now there is nothing."

Looters carried away office equipment and radios from a
damaged hotel. Tree trunks lay beside cars, a refrigerator and
dead 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 1 hurricane with winds of nearly 80 mph (128 kph).

"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."

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
ecosystems, particularly forests and mangroves, to prevent the
impact of hurricanes," the environmental group said.

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
Gutierrez and Noel Randewich in Mexico and Herbert Hernandez in