Officials say flooding and landslides from the season’s first tropical storm have killed at least 144 people in Central America. Dozens are still missing, thousands have lost homes and emergency crews are struggling to reach isolated communities cut off by washed-out roads and collapsed bridges caused by Tropical Storm Agatha. In hardest-hit Guatemala, where downpours created a giant sinkhole in Guatemala City, officials reported 120 dead and at least 53 missing.
The sinkhole swallowed up an entire street intersection and two nearby buildings, residents told CNN. They said a poor sewage drainage network was to blame. Unconfirmed reports claim that a private security guard was killed when the sinkhole opened up.
Thousands more have fled their homes in neighbouring Honduras, where the death toll rose to 15 even as meteorologists predicted three more days of rain. Two dams near the capital, Tegucigalpa, overflowed into a nearby river. In El Salvador, the heavy rain caused numerous landslides and 11,000 people were evacuated. Agatha made landfall near the Guatemala-Mexico border on Sunday as a tropical storm with winds up to 75 kph. It dissipated the following day over the mountains of western Guatemala.
The rising death toll is reminding nervous residents of Hurricane Mitch, which hovered over Central America for days in 1998, causing flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 11,000 people and left more than 8,000 missing and unaccounted for. Rescue efforts in Guatemala have been complicated by a volcanic eruption last week near the capital that blanketed parts of the area with ash and closed the country’s main airport. Officials are now allowing helicopters and propeller planes to take off, but commercial flights.