SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – The death toll from rains and mudslides across Central America rose to at least 80, with El Salvador suffering the most fatalities at 32 and poor weather due to continue, Salvadoran officials said.
International highways have been washed out, villages isolated and thousands of families have lost homes and crops in a region that the United Nations has classified as one of the most affected by climate change.
Hardest hit were El Salvador, with at least 32 dead after five days of intense rains unleashed by a stubbornly persistent tropical depression, and Guatemala, where 28 people were reported dead and two others missing.
Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said in a message to the nation that El Salvador was "really being put to the test," adding that more than 20,000 people had been evacuated and entire communities had been cut off due to unpassable roads.
"We've got a very complicated situation," said the country's Environment Minister Herman Rosa Chavez, who said 15cm of rain over a 12-hour period had made the country's mountainous terrain unstable.
The government launched an appeal for international humanitarian aid, with the rains forecast to continue through Monday. Spain responded by sending 20 tons of aid materials including personal hygiene kits and tents.
In Ciudad Arce, 40km west of the capital, a landslide swept away five houses, killing at least nine people, officials said.
Rescuers frantically searched for survivors, retrieving the bodies of at least one child and two adults, an AFP photographer said.
Jorge Melendez, the head of the country's civil protection agency, said most of the deaths in El Salvador were caused by mudslides.
In Guatemala, President Alvaro Colom declared a "state of calamity" after the death toll there reached 28 after five days of heavy rains.
In the most recent incident, a mudslide buried five members of a single family inside a house in Boca del Monte, Villa Canales, 18km south of Guatemala City.
Forecasters said rains generated by a low pressure system would not let up for at least another day.
In Honduras, authorities raised the death toll to 12 after a night of unrelenting rains that turned creek beds into raging torrents in the populous mountain valley that is home to the capital Tegucigalpa.
President Porfirio Lobo declared a state of emergency in the southern part of the country and dispatched medical teams to the worst-affected areas.
In Nicaragua, the civil defense agency ordered the evacuation of the slopes of the Casita volcano, which experienced deadly landslides in 1998 after the passage of Hurricane Mitch.
First Lady Rosario Murillo, who is also the government spokeswoman, said eight people have been killed in Nicaragua and more than 25,000 affected by the rains.