Rescue crews used shovels and picks to dig bodies out of thick mud in Guatemala on Monday after Tropical Storm Agatha's torrential rain killed at least 113 people across Central America.
The first named storm of the 2010 Pacific hurricane season, Agatha slammed into Guatemala on Saturday, dumping more than 3 feet (one meter) of rain in the mountainous West of the country and in neighboring El Salvador, and sparking worries about damage to the coffee crop in both countries.
More than 50 people were still reported missing in Guatemala on Monday, and as the rain abated, exhausted rescue workers hauled away stones and tree trunks from crushed houses as they fought to reach the wounded.
"We just have shovels and picks. We don't have any machinery to dig," said firefighter Mario Cruz, who had been working almost non-stop since Friday night.
Other rescuers walked for several hours along muddy tracks to reach trapped villagers and pull them out of collapsed homes. "We had to walk with our equipment through the mountains, rescue people and then walk back again," said firefighter Rony Veliz. "It's been very hard."
More than 94,000 people have been evacuated as the storm buried homes under mud, swept away a highway bridge near Guatemala City and opened up sinkholes in the capital.
"I've lost everything but my two dogs," said a man sitting outside the ruins of his wooden house just outside Guatemala City. Another man said he saw his wife and two daughters swept away as they tried to cross a river to safety.
The head of the emergency services, Alejandro Maldonado, said at least 92 people had died in Guatemala, and another 54 people were missing. Nine people were killed in El Salvador and 12 in Honduras, including a woman who was electrocuted as she was helped from her flooded home.
"It's been difficult to reach people, but today we should be able to get to these isolated places," said David de Leon, a spokesman for Guatemala's emergency services.
Coffee pest feared
Agatha dissipated as it crossed Guatemala but emergency workers warned residents to expect heavy rain for several more days and said further mudslides were possible.
There was concern over the condition of the coffee crop in Guatemala, the region's biggest producer, and El Salvador, where the worst of the rain fell in the main coffee-growing area.
Some of Guatemala's coffee trees are at risk of a destructive fungus in the wake of Agatha but mudslides and collapsed bridges made it hard to immediately assess the damage, growers said.
Gerardo de Leon, commercial manager of a group of 120 farms around the country, said intense humidity was likely to damage some crops. "The humidity during and after the storm causes fungus in the plants. That's the problem," he told Reuters.
Central America is vulnerable to heavy rains due to its mountainous terrain, while poor communications in rural areas complicate rescue efforts. Last November's Hurricane Ida caused flooding and mudslides that killed at least 150 people as it moved through the region.
Guatemalan officials have warned the flooding from Agatha could be worsened by ash from Pacaya volcano blocking drains.
Last Thursday's eruption forced the closure of Guatemala City's international airport. The airport has reopened for aid flights but will remain closed to commercial flights until Tuesday, aviation officials said.
ReutersLast Mod: 31 Mayıs 2010, 21:07