GUATEMALA CITY (AFP) Oct 12, 2005
The death toll from devastating mudslides in Guatemala topped 2,000 on Tuesday, as rescuers called off their search for hundreds of people buried for six days under solidifying mud.
The decision brought the death toll from mudslides, heavy rains and flooding to 2,055 in Guatemala alone. Forty-two others were killed in Mexico, 72 in El Salvador and 11 in Nicaragua.
Guatemalan and Spanish firefighters had little hope of finding survivors as they searched with sniffer dogs after a mudslide on the San Lucas volcano, triggered by the relentless rains unleashed by Tropical Storm Stan, plowed into the towns of Panabaj and Tzanchaj.
"The search has been definitively called off," Mario Cruz, a spokesman for volunteer firefighters, told AFP. "The 1,400 declared missing in Panabaj are dead."
President Oscar Berger touched down in the disaster zone Tuesday, 186 kilometers (110 miles) west of the capital, on the edge of Lake Atitlan, normally one of Guatemala's top tourist attractions.
Wearing a surgical mask against the nauseating stench, he promised crowds of taciturn Mayan Indians that new housing and land would be provided away from the devastated area, which has been declared both a mass grave and a contamination zone.
"We are very worried about the situation, but I have the impression that we have never been so united," he said. "Together we will prevail," he told a skeptical audience.
Panabaj was declared an "area of high (health) risk" by the Guatemalan Red Cross, meaning the town was off-limits to everybody, including its inhabitants, and that its surroundings were to be evacuated, a spokesman said.
But tens of thousands of residents of towns around the lake continued to drink its water and to use it for cooking, bathing and washing. "There is no other place to get water," Diego Martinez, mayor of the town of Santiago Atitlan, told AFP.
The threat of hunger and disease loomed elsewhere in Guatemala, in communities still cut off by floodwaters and mudslides, their crops destroyed and their water sources compromised.
Guatemalan army helicopters began delivering food and drinking water to towns on Guatemala's south coast for the first time Tuesday, almost a week after disaster struck.
"There's no water, people are desperate, the children are getting sick because they are drinking rain water or contaminated riverwater," a woman in western Guatemala pleaded on a radio broadcast.
At least three people died and some 300 were evacuated Tuesday as a fresh mudslide hit the indigenous community of San Pedro Sacatepequez, 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of the capital, an official said.
Stan slammed the Mexican state of Veracruz as a hurricane a week ago, before being downgraded to a tropical storm.
Berger has urged the international community to help his nation of 11.2 million people, and several countries -- including Canada, Cuba, France, Japan, Mexico and Spain -- have pledged assistance.
Vice President Eduardo Stein said the country needed 21.5 million dollars in emergency funds to provide food, blankets and medicine to an estimated 3.5 million people affected by the storm.
The damage is estimated at 800 million dollars.
The United Nations said it was launching a 22-million-dollar (18.3-million-euro) flash appeal to assist victims in Guatemala.
The US military sent a humanitarian assistance team of 58 over the weekend and has promised 15 helicopters to deliver supplies. US General Bantz Craddock, commander of the Miami-based US Southern Command, arrived in Guatemala on Monday to help coordinate relief efforts.
Some 200 doctors from Cuba traveled to Guatemala to help with the emergency effort. Venezuela dispatched a military plane with emergency workers and 12 tonnes of humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, in southeastern Mexico, hundreds of farming communities face months of possible food shortages and the loss of entire crops.
Mexican authorities have launched a vaccination drive amid an outbreak of dengue fever in the storm zone.
Mexican President Vicente Fox estimated that rebuilding broken bridges, homes and other infrastructure in his country would cost 1.8 billion dollars.
"It is urgent that funds flow rapidly" to the affected areas, Fox said.
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.All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.