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El Salvador begins post-storm clean-up
by Staff Writers
San Salvador (AFP) Oct 21, 2011

El Salvador has begun cleaning up the devastation left by more than a week of heavy rain as officials warned the tab could exceed the cost of Hurricane Mitch 13 years ago.

At least 34 people were killed and over 50,000 were forced to leave their homes as the downpour felled bridges, washed out roads, and left an estimated 10 percent of the country under water.

There was no definitive figure for the cost of the damage from 10 days of rain, but Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said Thursday that "the loss will be great, more than ever before from a natural phenomenon of this type."

Mitch cost $262 million in damages when it hit in 1998.

Officials said the effects of the latest storm would be felt for months as the rain also flooded El Salvador's bean, rice and corn crops, dietary staples in the country of 6.1 million people.

Health authorities have warned of the possibility of virus outbreaks and food shortages throughout Central America as death tolls rise from the floods and landslides caused by the rain.

Some parts of El Salvador counted 150 centimeters (five feet) of rain during the storm -- 15 times more than the average for the period -- according to Environment Minister Herman Chavez.

Funes called for international aid to help his hard-hit country recover.

"Many needs arise from these natural phenomena and addressing them is not easy when you have little money in state coffers, so it is very important that the government get that international aid," said economist Roberto Rubio.

"The country just cannot get ahead of this difficult situation."

The number of fatalities across Central America has topped 100 from the non-stop downpours that have affected hundreds of thousands of people.

Officials reported 36 deaths in Guatemala, while thousands of hectares (acres) of crops were destroyed -- a disaster for huge numbers of residents who rely on small-scale farms to survive.

To the south, authorities in Honduras said 18 people had died, with another 12 reported dead in Nicaragua.

In Costa Rica, Red Cross officials said four people had drowned as they attempted to cross swollen rivers.

With floodwaters that once raged now sitting stagnant, authorities in the region warned of potential epidemics, such as dengue spread by mosquitoes, bacteria infections and influenza outbreaks.

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