Death toll from Central American mudslides soars

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The Independent US

Rescuers across Central America are struggling to reach dozens of hillside villages deluged in mud in the wake of Hurricane Stan and days of torrential rains. The official death toll stood at 164, although officials in five countries said the casualty rate was likely to climb significantly higher.

Hardest hit was Guatemala, with roughly half the officially recorded deaths. Whole hillsides collapsed, crushing houses and leaving thousands of people homeless and struggling for survival. The storms have swept away roads, bridges and houses, making it near-impossible to reach more remote areas. The rain is forecast to continue.

One hard-hit area was Lake Atitlan, a resort surrounded by volcanoes 60 miles west of Guatemala City, where rescue workers pulled 15 bodies out of the mud and expect to find more.

Hurricane Stan slammed into Mexico on Tuesday. Although the winds quickly died, the rain in its wake caused most of the damage. Reports from across the region told of children drowned in mud, shanty houses crushed, and people's belongings strewn amid downed power and telephone lines.

Deaths were reported in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica as well as Guatemala. Worst hit in Mexico were the states of Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca. Military personnel were drafted to help evacuate as many coastal residents as possible and bring them to shelters on higher ground.

Central America is still traumatised by Hurricane Mitch, which caused catastrophic damage and killed 10,000 people when it blew through seven years ago. Central American governments have been unable either to improve housing standards or to slow deforestation, which has left many hillsides bare and made local communities much more vulnerable to mudslides and flooding.