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» »Unlabelled » Storms kill 55 in Mexico, C. America

The death toll in Mexico and Central America climbed to 55 Saturday as torrential rain storms continued, causing deadly mudslides and massive flooding.

More than 250,000 people were affected across the region -- 62,700 in Mexico, 118,704 in Guatemala, about 60,000 in El Salvador, 7,862 in Honduras and 4,463 in Nicaragua.

Maximum nationwide alerts were maintained in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, while disaster prevention authorities worked against the clock to evacuate thousands of people from the most vulnerable regions ahead of the rain which had been forecast for the upcoming days.

The continuing presence of a storm system over southern Mexico "is expected to produce locally heavy rains over the Yucatan peninsula, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Cuba, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands during the next couple of days," the US National Hurricane Center said.

By Saturday, civil protection authorities had evacuated over 17,700 people in the five countries worst hit by the ongoing torrential rains caused last week by Hurricane Jova, Hurricane Irwin, Tropical Depression 12-E and two other independent storm systems.

Guatemala's death toll rose to 23, after one reported missing was found dead, and the country's National Coordinating Agency for Disaster Reduction (Conred) raised the number of affected people to as many as 118,704 from Friday's 55,000.

In El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes issued a special emergency decree, saying the primary task is to "safeguard and protect" the public against the storms and provide them with support.

From the beginning, the Civil Protection Direction and other governmental organizations have been meeting the needs of those affected, Funes said, adding that thanks to the quick response, there was a lot less damage and loss of lives.

However, the death toll in El Salvador rose by one to a total of seven, while the number in the neighboring Honduras rose to 10 as the continuous rains caused flooding in over 50 percent of southern Honduras, the Permanent Contingency Commission (Copeco) said.

"Copeco is concentrating efforts on saving the lives of all citizens and providing support to the local communities so they can feed those living in shelters," an official at Copeco told the Honduran daily El Heraldo.

In Nicaragua, the death toll remained unchanged at eight, while in Mexico, the daily El Universal reported a death toll of 10, up from eight previously.

Mexico's National Meteorological Service warned that "intense rains are expected in the next 72 hours in southern Veracruz, Eastern Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco and the Yucatan Peninsula," and people in all these states should be "extremely careful" of venturing out in regions with overflowing rivers or prone to soil erosions.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Saturday toured the areas worst hit by Hurricane Jova in the two Pacific coast states of Colima and Jalisco. The Ministry for Social Development said people had been affected in 60 municipalities in six states, including Oaxaca, Tabasco, Campeche and Guerrero.

Over 2,000 people were killed across southern Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador in 2005 when heavy rains from Hurricane Stan caused landslides and flooding, while over 10,000 people were killed in Nicaragua and Honduras in the mudslides caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

According to weather forecasts, southern Mexico and Central America are facing situations similar to Stan and Mitch, where months-long torrential rains from an intense 2011 hurricane season have left soils saturated with water and extremely vulnerable to landslides.

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