Central America on Alert as Rains Continue

By Dialogo
October 19, 2011

On October 17, Central America was on high alert due to the uninterrupted rains that have left more than 80 dead and affected 200,000 people in the last week.

El Salvador, where at least 32 people have died, and Guatemala, with 29 dead and 6 missing, are the two countries most severely impacted by the rains unleashed by two successive low-pressure systems, the first in the Pacific and the second in the Caribbean.

Provisional official figures, which threaten to increase due to the risk of mudslides in this mountainous region and with the soil saturated with water, also record 13 dead in Honduras and another 8 in Nicaragua.

Considered by the United Nations as one of the regions most affected by climate change, Central America has suffered more than 50,000 dead and tens of billions of dollars in losses due to natural disasters over the last 40 years, according to a study by European and Latin American universities.

In this context, the region’s Governments issued disaster declarations and requests for help from the international community.

“The intensity of the precipitation, the duration of the phenomenon, and the size of the territory affected mean that we are facing one of the largest emergencies we have ever had to deal with,” Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes affirmed in a message broadcast on radio and television. He also added that “this phenomenon is larger than Hurricane Mitch (1998) and Tropical Storms Ida and Agatha (2008 and 2009, respectively).”

A preliminary evaluation indicates that around a dozen bridges have collapsed, and a similar number are damaged.

Likewise, 14 primary roads have suffered severe damage, 577 cases of landslides falling onto roads have been identified, and 20,000 people have taken refuge in temporary shelters in the country, the Congress of which has declared a “state of public catastrophe and national disaster.”

Following the call for help, several countries responded, including Spain, the United States, Japan, Taiwan, Venezuela, and Cuba, according to the Salvadoran foreign minister, Hugo Martínez, who explained that he is coordinating with them the kind of aid they need and how to effectively deliver it.