Tropical storm lashes Guatemala, Mexico coasts

Tropical Storm Barbara lashed coffee- and sugar-growing regions near the Pacific coasts of Guatemala and Mexico with wind and rain on Saturday, toppling palm huts but causing no reported injuries.

Barbara made landfall shortly after dawn on Saturday carrying sustained winds of 80km/h, and higher gusts, the United States National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.

The centre warned of possible flash floods or mudslides in the mountainous area of towering volcanoes and forests spanning the border region, where many inhabitants are poor Maya indigenous farmers or landless rural workers.

High winds toppled or blew the roofs off about a dozen palm huts around the poor seaside village of Ocos, in Guatemala, just kilometres from the Mexican border, its mayor said.

“We spent all night outside. We thought the whole house would fall on us,” said Clarisa Chavez, standing outside a one-room hut in a hamlet near Ocos she shares with five children. Its roof had been blown off by the wind.

Hundreds of banana plants lay strewn in surrounding plantations and Ocos’ mayor said one swollen river had made a bridge linking a small island to the mainland impassable, cutting off the only land link for 40 families living there.

A chain of mountains and volcanoes runs parallel to the coast in the important coffee- and sugar-growing region, and heavy rainfall can often unleash fierce torrents.

In 2005, Hurricane Stan buried as many as 300 Maya villagers in a mudslide in Guatemala and ripped apart the Mexican town of Tapachula near the border, cutting off the trading and farming centre.

Gilberto Orozco, spokesperson for civil protection in Tapachula, said many rivers in the area were swollen but there were no reports of any of them bursting their banks.

Barbara later weakened to a tropical depression and the hurricane centre expected it to dissipate over the mountains of south-eastern Mexico later on Saturday as it continued inland.

Salina Cruz, the nearest oil port on Mexico’s Pacific coast in the state of Oaxaca, remained open throughout the storm.

Earlier predictions had Barbara developing into a hurricane over the weekend and barreling toward Mexican resorts like Puerto Escondido, a major surfing spot.
A tropical storm becomes a hurricane when maximum sustained winds reach 120km/h. - Reuters

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