Saturday, May 29, 2010

Guatemala hit by first 2010 tropical storm - News Update

A man carries a child under heavy rains from Tropical Storm Agatha in Patulul, Guatemala, on Saturday - notice how high the water is and Sam's last letter telling about how high the water was in the streets after the rains.

GUATEMALA CITY - The first tropical storm of the 2010 season hit the Pacific coastline of Guatemala and Mexico on Saturday, killing 12 people under landslides and rockfall triggered by torrential rains.

Agatha's rains caused a landslide in a precarious hillside settlement of Guatemala City that killed four people and left 11 missing, Guatemalan disaster relief spokesman David de Leon said. Most of the city was without electricity at nightfall, complicating search efforts.

Four children were killed by another mudslide in the town of Santa Catarina Pinula about six miles outside the Guatemalan capital. And in the department of Quetzaltenango, 125 miles west of Guatemala City, a boulder loosened by rains crushed a house, killing two children and two adults, de Leon said.

Agatha formed as a tropical storm early Saturday in the East Pacific and moved over land in the evening along the Guatemala-Mexico border, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The hurricane center said Agatha had weakened into a tropical depression by late Saturday evening with winds of 35 mph, and was expected to weaken even further as it pushed inland. Forecasters warned, however, that heavy rains could continue to fall, bringing 10 to 20 inches.

"The storm will start to weaken and we hope that on Sunday it will be just a tropical depression," said Romero Garcia of Guatemala's Meteorological Institute. "That is not to say that there won't be heavy rains."

The center of the storm was located 25 miles east-northeast of Tapachula on Saturday night, moving north-northeast at 5 mph and packing winds of 40 mph.

More than 850 people were evacuated from their homes because of flooding affecting much of central and southern Guatemala.

Before the rains, Guatemala already was contending with heavy eruptions from its Pacaya volcano that have blanketed the capital in ash and destroyed 800 homes. Officials expressed concerns that Agatha's rains could exacerbate the damages.

The Pacaya volcano, which is just south of the capital, started spewing lava and rocks Thursday afternoon, forcing the closure of Guatemala City's international airport. A TV reporter was killed by a shower of burning rocks.

Airport official Felipe Castaneda told reporters Saturday that the airport would be closed for the next five days while ash is removed. "The work to remove the ash was going forward, but the rain has complicated it," Castaneda said.

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