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El Salvador flooding, mudslides kill 91

At least 60 people are reported missing after three days of rain. Meteorologists say the downpour is unrelated to Hurricane Ida, now swirling off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

November 09, 2009|Alex Renderos and Ken Ellingwood

SAN SALVADOR AND MEXICO CITY — Torrential rains in El Salvador triggered flooding and mudslides that left at least 124 people dead across the Central American nation, officials said Sunday.

Dozens of others were reported missing, and authorities warned that the toll could rise as rescuers reached zones that remained cut off by floodwaters and landslides. About 7,000 people were evacuated and scores were plucked from flood zones by helicopter, Interior Minister Humberto Centeno said.

"The images we have seen today are of a country devastated," President Mauricio Funes said during a national television broadcast late Sunday. Funes said the destruction resulted from a lack of flood-prevention systems in hard-hit spots, which he said received more than a foot of rain.

The impoverished nation of 7 million was pelted by three days of rain attributed to "a disturbed weather area" off the Pacific coast of El Salvador, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center. Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said the heavy rains were unrelated to Hurricane Ida, which earlier sideswiped the region as a tropical storm over the western Caribbean.

Authorities reported flooding in the capital, San Salvador, and rural areas to the east. Some of the worst damage was reported in the eastern province of San Vicente, a farming region where authorities said many residents remained cut off from communication.

A radio journalist who reached Verapaz, a town of 6,000 in that region, reported seeing dozens of people desperately searching for relatives missing amid homes buried by landslides after a river spilled over its banks.

Carlos Lopez, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said 300 homes in Verapaz were "semi-destroyed."

He said hundreds more rural dwellers were cut off in the southern province of Usulutan. Many took refuge on their shanty roofs. Rescue workers were having a hard time reaching the area because of landslides that blocked highways.

In San Salvador, Mayor Norman Quijano said the flooding destroyed more than 250 homes in and around the capital as the rains peaked late Saturday and early Sunday.

Outside the capital, in the community of San Martin, Mayor Mario Gonzalez said at least 25 people died, many when landslides buried their hillside shacks.

Later Sunday, Hurricane Ida carried 100-mph winds as it swirled off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, where authorities activated shelters and suspended tourist ferry services. Officials in the coastal state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun and the nearby island resorts of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, reported rain as the hurricane chugged offshore, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

The storm is projected to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast east of New Orleans by early Tuesday. Chevron Corp. began evacuating some Gulf of Mexico personnel in anticipation, Bloomberg News reported.

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ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

Renderos is a special correspondent.

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