Deadly downpours drench Central America, Caribbean
Guatemala City (AFP) Sept 25, 2010
At least 14 people were killed by flooding and landslides from heavy rain across the Caribbean basin, as Tropical Storm Matthew lashed water-logged Central America Saturday.
Central America alone is in the midst of one of the most intense rainy seasons in the past 60 years. Flooding and landslides have killed more than 300 people, left tens of thousands homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage in recent months, officials said.
Matthew made landfall in northern Nicaragua on Friday, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate. The storm then dumped heavy rain as it marched across northern Honduras, but weakened overland and by 1800 GMT Saturday broke up into a tropical depression over Belize, the US National Hurricane Center reported.
Matthew "is forecast to slow down significantly and become nearly stationary during the next day or two" before dissipating over Central Americam, it added.
Yet the storm's torrential rainfall -- up to 38 centimeters (15 inches) in isolated areas -- will remain a serious threat to Central America even after Matthew sheds its storm status, the NHC warned.
It said the rainfall could produce "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides" across the region, including southern Mexico, which has already suffered from historic rainfall and flooding this year.
The storm had drenched Nicaragua and Honduras earlier Saturday, but there were no initial reports of casualties, though 15 people were reported missing after boarding a sailboat off the coast of Honduras.
However in Haiti, an unrelated freak storm late Friday killed at least five survivors of the devastating January quake living in a Port-au-Prince tent city. The storm injured dozens as it blasted through the capital, tearing down shabby tent homes, trees and power lines.
And in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez called on his country to remain on alert after seven members of a family were killed in flooding in a Caracas slum triggered by heavy rain late Friday. Another person, a 70 year-old man, was swept away by a swollen river in the northeastern state of Sucre, officials said.
Tropical Storm Matthew struck Central America further south than expected on Friday, Rosalba Silva of Nicaragua's Meteorology Institute told AFP.
Fearing rising waters, some 34 families in Guatemala were evacuated from near the Sis river and rushed to emergency shelters. The hardest-hit Guatemalan city up to now was Puerto Barrios, on the Caribbean, where Mayor David Pineda reported heavy flooding and knocked-down trees.
The NHC said the weakening Matthew was expected to drench portions of Belize, Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas, with "a heavy rain threat" expected even after it dissipates.
Belize was under a major storm alert, with authorities recommending travelers to steer clear of the Southern Cayes region and people living in flood-prone areas to evacuate.
There have been no reports of victims or serious damage in Honduras, though the Honduran government expanded a red alert nationwide because Matthew threatened all 18 departments.
Randolfo Funez of the national emergency commission pointed to high water levels in rivers, noting that the soil was already highly saturated from frequent rains since Tropical Storm Agatha made landfall in May.
Some 10,000 indigenous Miskito people living on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast were evacuated ahead of the storm, said Civil Defense chief Mario Perezcassar. Another 5,000 were evacuated to temporary shelters from areas in Nicaragua at risk of flooding.
The remnants of Matthew are expected to rumble into southern Mexico -- already devastated by historic flooding this year -- late Sunday or early Monday.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lisa continued to weaken in the far eastern Atlantic, about 1,595 kilometers (990 miles) off the Azores islands. With maximum winds of 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour, Lisa was heading northward posing no immediate threat to land.
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