Tropical Storm Stan: More than 600 dead

Mudslides and floods sparked by Tropical Storm Stan have killed 508 people in Guatemala alone, a Guatemalan official said on Saturday, bringing to 610 the number killed when the storm lashed Central America and Mexico with heavy, unrelenting rains.

The previous death toll in Guatemala was set at 176 on Friday, when rescuers discovered 36 bodies in Solola Department west of the capital, President Oscar Berger said, noting that hundreds of Guatemalans were still missing.

The storm has also killed 67 people in El Salvador, 24 in Mexico and 11 in Nicaragua, authorities in those countries said. Tens of thousands were left homeless across the region.

Stan slammed ashore as a hurricane in the Mexican state of Veracruz early on Tuesday, but began pounding northern Central America with rain on October 1, with Guatemala taking the hardest blow.

Berger had warned Guatemalans on Friday to prepare for greater losses.

”We are going to have unpleasant surprises. There are many missing, many landslides, towns cut off,” he said.

Most of those killed in Guatemala were indigenous people who lived along the banks of Lake Atitlan, in the west of the country. The area was buried in massive mudslides, as tonnes of mud poured down the sides of the mountains surrounding the lake.

After the storm crashed ashore in Mexico, rains in the region ”just did not stop for three days”, said Emerita Albores (37), whose home was destroyed as a river in Pijijiapan, Mexico, near the Guatemalan border, burst its banks.

To reach the spot where Albores’s home used to be, it is a treacherous trip down the Tonala-Tapachula highway. There are mudslides every 200m or so.

”There should have been a strong retaining wall here, not a little pile of rocks there was before the floods; this happened back in 1998, too, and nothing changed. Nobody came to help us,” said Amado Montes, a resident of a village that has been cut off by the flooding and mudslides.

Normally, when there are natural disasters, the Mexican army trudges in to help.

But local residents in Mexico’s Chiapas state, where Pijijiapan is located, are outraged as hundreds have had to walk away from their village homes, searching for potable water and food, and so far there is no help in sight.

Now, locals are helping each other rappel down ravines and riverbeds where washed-out bridges used to be, many paying for taxis into the nearest town.

”All I have are the clothes on my back,” said a frustrated Gloria Sanchez, an older woman who could not leave her home earlier because she was tending to a handicapped daughter at home.

”We were waiting to see the will of God, but the river overflowed anyway,” Sanchez said, breaking down in tears.

”People are not just coming in here to see the flood damage, they are coming in to steal things” while people are displaced, and ”the police don’t want to get their shoes wet; they have left us to fend for ourselves”, added Montes as he looked for anything to salvage from his destroyed home.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, has been one of the deadliest and most active on record. Stan was the 10th Atlantic hurricane this year.

Hurricane Katrina, which slammed the US Gulf of Mexico coast August 29, ravaged New Orleans and coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, killing more than 1 200 people and becoming the deadliest storm to hit the United States since 1928. — AFP



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