Tropical Storm Agatha floods kill 150, cause giant sinkhole in Guatemala City

Flooding and landslides from tropical storm Agatha have killed more than 150 people throughout Central America in the past few days, and apparently caused a giant Guatemala City sinkhole.

By , Staff writer

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    A sinkhole caused caused by tropical storm Agatha in Guatemala City on Sunday. Torrential rains brought by the first tropical storm of the 2010 season pounded Central America and southern Mexico, triggering deadly landslides.
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Villagers have been buried alive in Guatemala. Residents, caked in mud, have searched in the wreckage of their homes for loved ones. Aerial photos show entire swaths of the nation's coffee crop under water. Then, there's the giant Guatemala City sinkhole.

The Atlantic hurricane season opens today, preceded by the Pacific one just weeks earlier, but already seasonal weather – coupled with volcano eruptions and other freak accidents – has battered Central American nations.

IN PICTURES: Guatemala sinkhole

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More than 150 people have been killed, mostly due to flooding and landslides, after tropical storm Agatha, the first Pacific storm of the season, struck Guatemala Saturday, impacting El Salvador and Honduras as well. Thousands across the region are homeless.

The worst hit nation is Guatemala. In the Chimaltenango Province, west of Guatemala City, landslides buried dozens of communities, leaving at least 60 dead.

"The department has collapsed," Gov. Erick de Leon told the Associated Press. "There are a lot of dead people. The roads are blocked. The shelters are overflowing. We need water, food, clothes, blankets — but above all, money."

Isolated villages

Although the sun emerged in Guatemala yesterday, the number of those dead could rise as rescue workers attempt to reach communities that have been isolated by washed out roads and bridges.

Schools were shut down across the region, and the risk of more deadly landslides has not passed. In Guatemala over 110,000 people have been evacuated.

In El Salvador, where 11,000 people have been evacuated and 10 killed, 179 bridges were wrecked. The Lempa River already flooded 20 villages, officials say, and the Acelhuate River could top its banks and flood the capital.

In Honduras, thousands have fled their homes as three more days of rain are forecast and rivers are already swollen near the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Floods follow volcanic eruption

The storm hit on Saturday, just two days after the Pacaya volcano, about 20 miles south of Guatemala City, erupted, causing the international airport to shut down.

Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom had declared a 15-day calamity, before tropical storm Agatha dumped three feet of water in the western part of the country. Officials have said that the ash from the volcano, which again covered the airport Monday, could aggravate flooding, as it blocks the nation's drainage systems.

The Guatemalan government posted photos of the flooding tragedy, including one of a sinkhole apparently the size of an entire street block, that opened in the northern section of Guatemala City. A three-story building was swallowed by the hole. Authorities are investigating the cause. A sinkhole in the same area killed three people in 2007.

Last November, hurricane Ida struck the region, killing at least 150 people from landslides and flooding.

The worst in recent memory was hurricane Mitch, during the Atlantic hurricane season, which in 1998 killed almost 11,000 people and left 8,000 missing.

--- Wire services were used in this report

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IN PICTURES: Guatemala sinkhole

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