Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Scores die in El Salvador floods


The torrential rain triggered landslips and mudslides

At least 124 people have been killed in El Salvador by flooding and landslides following days of heavy rain, the government says.

President Mauricio Funes has declared a national emergency, describing the damage as "incalculable".

The capital San Salvador and central San Vicente province were hardest hit.

Mud and boulders buried homes and cars in the small town of Verapaz, where rescuers dug into the night - some with their bare hands - to find survivors.

El Salvador map, showing flood-hit areas and path of Hurricane Ida

The BBC's weather centre says the disastrous rains were mainly caused by a low pressure system in the Pacific, which was linked indirectly to Hurricane Ida, which passed the country three days ago.

Ida was downgraded to a tropical storm as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico on Monday.

Nonetheless, storm warnings remain in place along the Gulf Coast of the US, from Mississippi to Florida.

Massive rockslides

Soldiers joined residents of Verapaz, a town with a population of about 3,000 some 50km (30 miles) outside San Salvador, to dig through the mud with shovels under a persistent drizzle, the Associated Press reported.

People walk in street damaged by boulders and mud in Verapaz, El Salvador
The images that we have seen today are of a devastated country
El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes

Emergency services said about 300 homes had been destroyed in the town, which was hit by massive rockslides from the Chichontepec volcano.

AP earlier quoted Red Cross spokesman Carlos Lopez Mendoza as saying 60 people there were missing.

The country's official death toll was not broken down by location but the deaths were concentrated in San Salvador and San Vicente province, where Verapaz is situated.

"It was terrible," said Manuel Melendez, 61, whose home in the town was destroyed.

"The rocks came down on top of the houses and split them in two, and split the pavement. I heard people screaming all around."

We were able to see full trees floating by to the ocean
Jaymes Kine, Playa El Tunco, El Salvador

Collapsed walls, boulders and downed power lines that blocked heavy machinery have been impeding the rescue effort.

A reporter on the El Salvador daily La Prensa Grafica, Juan Carlos Barahona, told the BBC that San Vicente had been virtually cut off by landslides and collapsed bridges.

Other badly affected areas were La Libertad, La Paz and Cuscatlan, he said.

About 7,000 people are living in shelters as a result of the disaster.

Large parts of the country are without electricity or clean water and remain cut off from government aid, the BBC's Latin America correspondent Will Grant reports.

"The images that we have seen today are of a devastated country," President Funes said on local television.

Our correspondent says that this is easily the biggest crisis the government of Mr Funes has had to face since coming to office five months ago.

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