Major storms ravaging Guatemala and southern Mexico since the weekend have killed at least 48 people and caused damage worth hundreds of millions of dollars, officials said.
In Mexico, at least three people died and nearly half a million were forced to leave their homes due to flooding, authorities in Oaxaca and Guerrero states said on Monday. At least 45 people have died and damages from the stormy weather were expected to reach half a billion dollars in Guatemala, as the nation struggles through its worst rainy season in 60 years.
Guatemala’s National Coordination for Disaster Reduction (Conared) said about 43,000 people were at risk, 11,500 had been evacuated and 56 were injured.
The torrential rains had sparked almost 200 landslides, wall collapses and mudslides across the country, it added.
After a brief window of good weather, Guatemalan rescuers had to halt work as torrential rain resumed and new mudslides made operations perilous in the mountainous country.
The western town of Solola has been particularly hard hit, with 25 bodies recovered. Many of the dead were ethnic Mayans who were engulfed in mud on Saturday when they came to assist motorists trapped in a 300m deep ravine.
“We brought shovels and spades and we were starting to help when another landslide came,” said Manuel Sohom, who lost his 15-year-old son.
They were only a few meters away from each other but “it all happened so fast we didn’t have time to do anything,” he said through tears.
“The mud covered me up to my chest and I was able to get out, but the others were completely buried and my son stayed under the earth and mud,” he said.
Manuel Ajtzalam came to identify the bodies of one of nephews and two of his cousins, who were also trying to help people out of the first mudslide when a second one struck.
After recovering the bodies, families buried them according to indigenous traditions in their villages.
The downpours have come ahead of what is traditionally the worst part of the rainy season, which lasts until Oct. 30.
“It’s a national tragedy,” Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said as he visited a site where up to 40 people were thought to have been buried alive in a mudslide.
“This weekend alone we have seen damage comparable to what we experienced with Agatha,” he added, referring to a tropical storm in May that killed 165 Guatemalans and left thousands more homeless.
“It is a very painful thing that poor people end up being the ones hurt by natural disasters,” Colom said, urging people only to use the main highway if they had no other option “because there are landslides all over the place.”
Colom estimated the damage at US$500 million and warned he had little funds left to cope with the disaster as Guatemala was still struggling to recover from Agatha.
With more heavy rain forecast, Guatemalan authorities have closed part of the Pan-American Highway.
Heavy rains in southern and eastern Mexico have also led many rivers to burst their banks, as authorities declared a warning in the northeast of the country, where Tropical Storm Hermine made landfall on Monday, threatening storm surges and tornadoes.