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Floods and landslides sweep through Central America

Floods and landslides in the wake of Hurricane Stan, combined with an earthquake off the coast of El Salvador as well as a volcano, have killed at least 617 people throughout Central America and Mexico.

Hurricane Stan

Floods and landslides in the wake of Hurricane Stan, combined with an earthquake off the coast of El Salvador as well as a volcano, have killed at least 617 people throughout Central America and Mexico.

More than 500 people were killed in Guatemala, hardest hit by last week's tropical storm. At least 1,400 are missing and presumed dead in the Guatemalan village of Panabaj, which was buried in a mudslide triggered by Stan's torrential rains.

With the disaster affecting El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Nicaragua, communications have been seriously affected with many roads/bridges damaged or collapsed and phone land lines down.

The situation has worsened, particularly in El Salvador and Guatemala, but, with remote areas cut off, the overall extent of the disaster remains unclear.

El Salvador

  • Some 65,000 people have been evacuated to shelters due to the combined effects of widespread flooding and the earlier eruption of the volcano Santa Ana.
  • Confirmed deaths are 74 (only two due to the volcanic eruption).
  • Renewed heavy rain (last week’s rainfall was 10 times the monthly average) has resulted in more flooding, having raised the main river levels.
  • Coastal areas in Ahuachapan, Sonsonate, La Paz, San Vicente and Usulutan remain flooded, increasing the risk of further landslides.
  • An exclusion zone around the still-erupting Santa Ana volcano (66 km from El Salvador) is in force.
  • The San Miguel volcano in the east of the country, 10 km from the third largest city, San Miguel, has registered intense seismic activity over the weekend and is being monitored closely.
  • The government has requested outside assistance. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs mobilised the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team on Friday.

WFP assistance

  • WFP continues to coordinate food assistance for evacuated populations with the National Family Secretariat.
  • WFP has so far dispatched 275 metric tonnes to 65,000 beneficiaries in shelters and affected communities.
  • Rations consist of cereals (maize & rice), pulses, corn-soya blend and vegetable oil from the ample stocks of WFP's relief and rehabilitation operation in the region which has again proven useful in this type of sudden onset emergency.
  • On 8 October (Saturday), WFP delivered the above rations for 15 days to isolated people on the Island of San Sebastian, Usulutan in the River Lempa delta, with the Salvadoran Navy which provided boats to transport the food.
  • WFP's El Salvador country office requested two boats on 6 October, which were immediately donated by the Swedish Rescue agency (SRSA) through the Augmented Logistics and Intervention Team for Emergencies, and air transported by WFP's private sector partner TNT. The boats are due to arrive in El Salvador on 10 October (Monday). They will be sent with trucks carrying rations to the flooded area.
  • Monitoring teams who have been verifying distributions to shelters are gathering data in communities affected by the Santa Ana eruption, flooding and mudslides.

Guatemala

  • The heavy rains that have inundated 30,000 sqm of Guatemala are expected to continue at least until 11 October (Tuesday).
  • The spread of the floods/mudslides disaster has been massive: 97,872 people so far affected (in 421 communities) of which some 80,000 are in 255 shelters.
  • Many communities in the northwest mountainous area of Guatemala are isolated as mud/landslides have cut the mountain roads: 25 percent of paved roads and 52 percent of those unpaved are damaged or cut.
  • While there are 508 people confirmed dead, the final toll is likely to be much higher (in excess of 800); a large mudslide has completely buried two villages in the lake Atitelan-Quetzaltenango area. Precise information is scarce as communication has been widely disrupted.
  • Serious damage has been inflicted on agriculture(estimated at US$400 million), infrastructure (15,200 houses damaged/destroyed) and the electricity grid. Seventeen bridges have collapsed and 16 are damaged/unusable, over 200 schools have been damaged/destroyed and while the extent is unknown, there are fears of water-borne diseases further devastating the affected communities.
  • The United Nations Disaster Management Team has been activated and a state of calamity has been declared by the government. A UN appeal is being prepared.

WFP assistance

  • WFP had been requested by the government to provide food aid as its own supplies were almost depleted. So far WFP has provided the Government of Guatemala with 1,300 metric tonnes of food for the 255 shelters; approximately 1,000 metric tonnes remains of the relief and recovery operation.
  • Following a government bid to control WFP food (apparently to save time) it was agreed between WFP and the government that assistance would continue to be rendered jointly.
  • An international logistician, with emergency experience, has been sent to Guatemala City as initial support to WFP's country office in the operation.
  • The country office urgently requires money and personnel to cope with a widespread emergency (as yet of unknown extent), which will continue well into next year.
  • Additionally there is seismic activity around the Casitas volcano in the Hoyo sector which is being monitored closely as it could affect various surrounding communities.

Nicaragua

  • So far, this has been a smaller emergency in the sub-region: only four main areas have been affected by the floods and mudslides: San Sebastian municipality; the department of Metagalpa in the north, with about half of the population being affected in nine communities; the departments of Leon and Chinandega in the west, with 14 communities affected; and in the department of Granada, two communities were affected
  • The number of people so far affected is 1, 407, of whom 876 are in 13 shelters.
  • Damage to agriculture is not yet quantified, however damage to infrastructure (communications and roads) is relatively minor. Access to Yaly municipality was cut off but it has now been restored. There are no isolated communities.

WFP assistance

  • The Government has not requested outside intervention: assistance is given at national level.
  • WFP Nicaragua is assisting affected groups through its existing programmes.

Mexico

  • Tapachula is the main area affected, where rains continued over the weekend.
  • Access to Tapachula town is impossible due to the collapse of several bridges on main roads to the city.
  • Civil defence volunteers and the Mexican army and navy are working closely to evacuate those living near the main waterways in the region; some reinforcements are being sent from Chiapas.
  • A number of shelters have been set up on higher ground.
  • Some 15,000 people have been displaced, with 100 confirmed dead.
  • Food assistance arrived on 9 October, brought by the Mexican navy through the port of Tapachula, 31 km south of the town.
  • Infrastructure remains operational, inclusive of phone land line and GSMs.