San Salvador: Heavy rains pounded Central America on Tuesday, where more than 80 people have died in mudslides and flooding over the past week as swollen rivers destroyed bridges and submerged roads.
Authorities have gone on high alert across the mountainous region, home to 42 million people, as the rains have shown no sign of abating.
El Salvador`s President Mauricio Funes warned yesterday that his country was facing a "major emergency," with 32 dead, three missing and some 32,000 people evacuated, saying the rainfall exceeded that caused by past hurricanes.
"The intensity of the rainfall, the duration of the phenomenon and the extent of the affected territory presents us with a major emergency," he said.
Another 29 people have died in Guatemala, 13 in Honduras and eight in Nicaragua, according to local officials, with the overall toll expected to rise as reports from isolated villages begin to trickle in.
Officials also fear further casualties from fresh mudslides, shortages of basic goods in isolated towns and disease spawned by stagnant water.
Hard-hit El Salvador yesterday launched a worldwide appeal for humanitarian assistance due to the intense rain.
Aid has already begun pouring in from Taiwan, Spain, the United States, Venezuela and a host of other countries, Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez told a press conference, adding Taipei had donated some USD 300,000 in flood relief.
Alarm bells were ringing over a pending malnutrition crisis throughout the poverty-stricken region after heavy rains washed away crops in areas where thousands of families rely on small-scale farming for their nutrition needs.
Flooding and landslides killed more than 300 people in Central America, left tens of thousands homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage in 2010.
Officials have blamed the effects of global warming for the spate of deadly rains and flooding.
"Climate change is not something that is coming in the future, we are already suffering its effects," said Raul Artiga with the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD).
In El Salvador, at least 10 bridges have collapsed and another 10 show serious damage, while 14 highways have serious damage, according to a preliminary report.
Public Works Minister Gerson Martinez estimated the damages at "several million dollars."
El Salvador has experienced record rainfall of 1.2 meters (four feet) in one week, shattering the record set by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.