Hurricane Stan's storms leave death and destruction

Hurricane Stan knocked down trees, ripped roofs off homes and washed out bridges in south-eastern Mexico, but it was the storms it helped spawn that were far more destructive, killing at least 82 people in Central America.

The former category-one hurricane had weakened to a depression over the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca by Wednesday.

But while the worst seemed to be over in some areas, authorities were still searching for victims in more southern areas of Mexico and Central America, where punishing storms spawned by Stan caused massive flooding and landslides.

Officials in El Salvador’s capital said 49 people had been killed, mostly due to two days of mudslides sparked by rains all over the country. More than 16 700 Salvadorans had fled their homes for 167 shelters nationwide.

“This is a national tragedy because of the rains,” said Eduardo Rivera, a spokesperson for a team of Salvadoran rescue officials. “There isn’t a corner of the country where there isn’t pain and destruction to be found.”

Among those evacuated were residents of Santa Tecla, outside the capital, San Salvador, where a strong earthquake caused a massive landslide in January 2001.
Officials have worried the mountain running alongside the neighbourhood might collapse again with heavy rains or another quake.

A 4,8-magnitude earthquake did shake the Pacific Ocean off the Salvadoran coast on Tuesday, but there were no reports of injuries or major damage.

Neighbouring Honduras said it would send aid to this country and Mexico also offered financial assistance.

Serious flooding

Heavy rains also brought flooding that damaged bridges and submerged highways elsewhere in Central America.

Nineteen people died in Guatemala, where flooding in more than 88 communities forced the evacuation of more than 6 000 residents.

Nearly all of the country’s rivers overflowed their banks, while landslides and fallen trees blocked at least 30 roadways. Most of the victims were killed in landslides, national disaster agency officials said.

Nine people died in Nicaragua, including six migrants believed to be Ecuadoreans killed in a boat wreck. Four deaths were reported in Honduras and one in Costa Rica.

In Mexico’s Chiapas, wind and rain more directly associated with Stan caused a river to overflow its banks and roar through the city of Tapachula, carrying homes of wood and metal with it and sparking hundreds of evacuations. Army and navy personnel joined state and local officials in helping residents flee to higher ground.

President Vicente Fox planned to visit the area later on Wednesday.

The city’s centre was littered with fallen branches and debris kicked up by flood waters and was virtually deserted on Tuesday night, as those not forced to evacuate holed up inside their homes.

Near Mexico’s border with Guatemala, Tapachula was largely cut off from surrounding areas as major highways, roads and bridges were left under water. Chiapas Governor Pablo Salazar said four people were missing.

“Sadly, we know it’s going to keep raining,” Salazar said.

Landfall

Hurricane Stan, which whipped up 130kph winds before being downgraded to a tropical depression, came ashore at about 10am on Tuesday along a sparsely populated stretch of coastline south of Veracruz, a busy port 295km east of Mexico City.

Its outer bands swiped the city, flooding low-lying neighbourhoods and highways. Officials in Veracruz state, which includes the city of the same name, said seven people, including two children, were injured, most by falling trees or roofs that collapsed in the coastal towns of Alvarado and Montepio.

Schools around the state cancelled classes and 38 000 people abandoned their homes, heading for shelters. Heavy rains also forced Veracruz’s Mexican League soccer squad, the Tiburones Rojos (Red Sharks), to scrap a scheduled practice.

All three of Mexico’s Gulf coast crude-oil loading ports closed, but the shutdowns weren’t expected to affect oil prices.

The crude-oil loading ports—Coatzacoalcos, Dos Bocas and Cayo Arcas—handle most of the 1,8-million barrels a day of crude oil exported by state-owned oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.

Oil production

Five exploratory oil platforms also were evacuated on Monday, but so far the storm hasn’t affected the company’s production of 3,4-million barrels a day of crude oil, Mexico’s Communications and Transportation Department said.

Pemex is the world’s third-largest oil producer, and most of its exports are sent to the United States.

Stan also brought heavy winds and rain to Oaxaca state, which borders Veracruz. There, officials opened 950 shelters and were watching 80 communities considered to be vulnerable.

The US National Hurricane Centre reported that even a greatly weakened Stan would continue to dump heavy rain on Oaxaca and much of the rest of southern Mexico.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writers Manuel de la Cruz in Tapachula, Mexico; Miguel Hernandez in Veracruz, Mexico; Filadelfo Aleman in Managua, Nicaragua; Marianela Jimenez in San Jose, Costa Rica; Juan Carlos Llorca in Guatemala City; and Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report

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