Panama City, Oct 10 (EFE).- At least 14 people have died and eight are missing after the passage of Hurricane Julia across Central America, where thousands of people have moved into shelters and evacuations continue due to fears of more flooding and landslides from the storm’s torrential rains, authorities said Monday.
Central America, one of the world’s most vulnerable areas to natural disasters, has been on alert since last Thursday, with the countries there undertaking preventive evacuations and suspending school classes.
Authorities in El Salvador on Monday reported at least seven storm-related deaths, five of them soldiers who were taking shelter from the rin in a house when a wall collapsed on them in the town of Comasagua, in central La Libertad province.
The other victims died under similar circumstances in a rural part of the country, where about 1,000 people have been evacuated. At least 25 shelters have been set up in different parts of the country, according to Salvadoran government figures.
Salvadoran Environment and Natural Resources Minister Fernando Lopez said that Julia has weakened to a tropical depression and that, although “it’s no longer a tropical storm, the threat of landslides and a high probability of overflowing rivers exists.”
In Guatemala, President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday declared a state of emergency due to the storm, which killed three people and has resulted in seven missing.
The emergency declaration enables Guatemalan authorities to limit certain constitutional rights like the freedom to travel and to order the evacuation of residents and the cancellation of large events.
In the past 24 hours, 1,042 people have been transferred to 13 public shelters located in northern Guatemala, where school classes were suspended on Oct. 10-11, although that suspension could be extended, depending on developments.
In Honduras, the state of alert is being maintained and classes remains suspended due to the heavy rains dumped in the area by the storm, which left at least three people dead, one missing, hundreds of people with property damage and thousands of evacuees.
The head of the Early Alert System, Juan Jose Reyes, on Monday called for the “complete evacuation” of low-lying areas in the Sula Valley in northern Honduras due to the accumulation of water and the potential overflowing of rivers.
The town of Lima, near San Pedro Sula, is one of the areas hardest hit by the rain, which has forced authorities to evacuate more then 15,000 people. Some 9,500 people remain in shelters set up by the government.
Julia hit the region – impacting in Nicaragua – on Sunday morning as a Category 1 hurricane, whereafter it weakened to a tropical storm although not without dumping a huge amount of rain and causing significant damage to homes and infrastructure, damage which still has not been quantified by the government.
The local authorities also have not provided an official death toll, although the local press has reported that at least two people have died.
In Panama, a woman died on Friday night when her home was swept away in a landslide in the coastal Caribbean province of Colon amid rains from Julia, the National Civil Protection System (Sinaproc) told EFE, adding that it is maintaining its preventive alert across almost the entire country.
The Central American Integration System (SICA) and several of its entities and agencies called on the international community to provide “urgent climate financing to increase (storm) resilience and implement adaptation measures.”
Doing this will enable the region, where about 50 million people live, many of them very poor, “to deal with the magnitude of the disasters caused by climate change, and to undertake national and regional efforts to attend to the humanitarian, social, economic and infrastructure impacts caused by Tropical Storm Julia,” the entity said in an official statement.
Each year in Central America, rains brought by hurricanes and storms – or associated with these ever more frequent and violent weather events – kill hundreds of people and result in millions of dollars in crop and infrastructure losses.