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New mudslide in Guatemala tourist spot kills 40

October 6, 2005

By Eduardo Garcia

TECPAN, Guatemala (Reuters) – A huge mudslide in a
Guatemalan lakeside town popular with tourists killed 40 people
after rains and flash floods from Hurricane Stan devastated
Central America and southern Mexico.

The latest tragedy was at Santiago Atitlan, a popular
destination for U.S. and European visitors in Guatemala’s Maya
Indian highlands, the government said on Thursday.

With the new deaths, 210 people have now been killed in
floods and mudslides in Central America and southern Mexico in
the last few days in the wake of Stan.

Benedicto Giron, spokesman for the civil protection agency,
said he did not know how many people were missing in Santiago
Atitlan, but rescue workers told Guatemalan radio that up to
800 people might be unaccounted for.

Santiago Atitlan is an indigenous town that sits on Lake
Atitlan, a collapsed volcanic cone filled with turquoise water.

Rain-sodden hills collapsed throughout the region, burying
mostly poor peasants. Many of the victims lived in flimsy
wooden and tin shacks.

As flood waters blocked rescue efforts across Central
America, mourning Mayan villagers solemnly laid out the dead.

“I have nothing, the water took everything,” said Basilio
Garcia, weeping beside the body of his 10-year-old
granddaughter in a fire station in Tecpan, west of Guatemala
City.

Six corpses were laid out on the floor and surrounded by
mourning townspeople in traditional dress.

Garcia saved his daughter from two mudslides that engulfed
more than 30 homes in their nearby hamlet on Wednesday, but his
granddaughter was killed and three other family members were
still missing.

An unknown number of foreigners were trapped at the resort
of Panajachel, also on Lake Atitlan.

“The area was cut off by mudslides. We understand there is
a good number of tourists there,” Defense Minister Carlos
Aldana said at an airfield in Guatemala City.

AREAS CUT OFF

Few rescue workers had been able to reach the area,
however, and communication was still cut off.

Guatemala confirmed 119 deaths and said the toll would
surely rise. There were at least 65 dead in El Salvador, 13 in
Mexico, 10 in Nicaragua and three in Honduras.

Troops across Central America and southern Mexico tried to
reach flooded areas with drinking water, food and medical kits
but relentless rains and washed out roads made it difficult.

“It’s the weather that is preventing us from doing a
more-effective job,” Mexican President Vicente Fox said.

Meteorologists predicted the rains would continue for the
rest of the week.

The flooding came from storms sparked by Hurricane Stan,
which smashed into Mexico from the Atlantic earlier this week.

Stan quickly weakened but several days of rains swelled
normally slow rivers into thundering, brown torrents that swept
away bridges, houses, roads and trees across the region.

Dozens of fishing villages on Guatemala’s Pacific coast
were cut off by flooding, and another potentially deadly
mudslide was reported on Thursday at the Tacamulco volcano near
the Mexico border.

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

Around 2,500 homes were destroyed in Mexico’s bustling
southern city of Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala.
Entire neighborhoods were deep in water and families spent the
night on roofs, waiting to be rescued.

In one neighborhood, an overflowing creek roared through
the doors of concrete houses. Cristina Acevedo waded knee-deep
in the muddy water, holding the hem of a purple spring dress.

“I’m going to try to get some clothes for my children, they
have nothing. We’ll see if there’s still some rice,” she said.
But the strong current prevented her from returning to her
house.

On Tapachula’s outskirts, residents and workers picked at a
pile of mud with shovels, looking for the bodies of three
neighbors buried overnight when a hillside collapsed as they
carried TV’s, stoves and other items from their homes.

(Additional reporting by Herbert Hernandez and Frank Jack
Daniel in Guatemala and Noel Randewich in Tapachula, Mexico)




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