Disasters & Accidents

150 Feared dead in Guatemala as rains from Eta continue

Guatemala City, Nov 6 (efe-epa).- Flooding and mudslides caused by rains from Tropical Depression Eta may have claimed as many as 150 lives in northern Guatemala, the Central American country’s president said Friday.

“The unofficial figures – because they are not confirmed – give us some 150 dead,” Alejandro Giammattei said during a press conference at the headquarters of the disaster management agency, Conred.

Guatemala’s official storm death toll stands at eight, while 18 other people are listed as a missing.

Concern centers on Queja, a village in the northern province of Alta Verapaz where a mudslide buried around 150 homes.

Army troops dispatched to the area had to make their way on foot over the mountain to reach the village, Giammattei said, adding that 120 people were evacuated from the nearby communities of Chapenal and Saquixim.

Around 2,500 people in those three villages have lost everything and 75,000 Guatemalans have been affected by the storm, the president said.

At least 6,000 farming families have lost their harvests as flooding has ruined 3,100 hectares (7,654 acres) of crops, Agriculture Minister Jose Angel Lopez told Efe.

In Peten and Quiche provinces, he said, farmers just completed planting the year’s second crop of maize and beans “and some of those new plantings were lost.”

But the numbers regarding casualties and damage will remain educated guesses until conditions improve enough for authorities to survey the zones of highest impact.

Eta’s passage across Guatemala “reminds us very much of Mitch, a very slow system,” Giammattei said. “Eta is going 7-10km/h (4-6mph).”

Hurricane Mitch, a Category 5 storm that lashed Central America in 1998, left more than 5,000 people dead, hundreds missing and around 1.5 million homeless and caused material damage that exceeded $4 billion.

Three aircraft carrying 4,540kg (10,000lbs) of food will deliver that cargo to Alta Verapaz as soon as conditions allow, the president said.

Giammattei said that he will ask Congress to set up an emergency fund financed through royalties paid by mining companies, while also seeking to earmark nearly $26 million in cash seized from organized crime and corrupt officials for relief and recovery efforts.

The more than $15.7 million in cash discovered recently inside a residence linked to former Communications Minister Jose Luis Benito should likewise be available, “since I don’t think anybody will claim it,” the president said. EFE ecs/dr

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