About 150 people have either died or remain unaccounted for in Guatemala due to mudslides caused by powerful storm Eta, which buried an entire village, President Alejandro Giammattei said Friday.
The toll is in addition to the approximately 20 people who died elsewhere in Central America since Eta made landfall in Nicaragua on Tuesday as a hurricane.
Giammattei said an army unit had arrived in the northern village of Queja to begin rescue efforts.
A preliminary report from the troops indicated that “150 homes have been buried with 100 people dead,” he said.
Giammattei added that another mudslide in the northeastern department of Huehuetenango, on the border with Mexico, had left 10 dead.
“We’ve calculated that between the deaths and those missing, the unofficial figures show around 150 dead,” said Giammattei.
He said the situation in Queja was “critical,” with heavy rain continuing to fall and setting off new mudslides, while roads are still blocked.
Some 2,500 people in the impoverished Mayan indigenous area had lost their belongings in the deluge of mud.
– ‘Flash-flooding’ risk –
Eta tore through Central America, leaving death and destruction in its wake since it first rocked Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane.
Two days later it exited Honduras as a tropical depression, although weather forecasters warned it could again strengthen into a tropical storm as it heads towards Cuba.
Cuba began taking measures on Friday to soften Eta’s impact. It is due to hit on Sunday.
Despite Eta having lost power, the US National Hurricane Center continued to warn of “life-threatening flash flooding” over portions of Central America.
The storm brought heavy rain that caused deadly flooding in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama.
Two people died in Nicaragua, where Eta tore through impoverished coastal areas and swept away whole villages.
Landslides in Panama buried two homes in Chiriqui province on the Costa Rican border, killing five people, the National Protection System said. Among the victims were three children.
The storm also destroyed homes, roads, bridges and plantations in Chiriqui.
Landslides claimed the lives of two children in Honduras, emergency services reported.
In Costa Rica, a 71-year-old American and his Costa Rican wife died when a landslide buried their home in the southern canton of Coto Brus, on the border with Panama.
Around 1,400 people in the south and Pacific coastal regions were taken to shelters after heavy rainfall saw rivers break their banks and flood vast areas.
A fisherman was killed on Thursday in El Salvador, where authorities evacuated 1,700 people whose homes were at risk from flooding, the civil protection agency said.
Guatemala previously reported 50 dead on Thursday, including two children aged 11 and two, whose fragile family dwelling was swept away, according to the local civil protection body.
As the surface layer of oceans warms due to climate change, hurricanes are becoming more powerful and carrying more water, posing an increasing threat to the world’s coastal communities, scientists say.
Storm surges amplified by rising seas can be especially devastating.