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Ongoing Central American rains a reminder of Mitch

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It has been raining in Central America for more than a week
  • At least 91 deaths have been reported
  • It is expected to rain at least for two more days
  • The amount of rain is similar to that of Hurricane Mitch in 1998

(CNN) -- The death toll from recent rain and flooding in Central America rose to at least 91 Wednesday as the deluge rivaled what the region witnessed during the deadly Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

The deadliness of the current disaster is much smaller than Mitch -- which killed some 11,000 people -- but the large amounts of rain are causing similar damage: washed out bridges, landslides, flooding and river overflows.

"We think of hurricanes as the thing that causes the most damage, but you can have rains that are just as damaging without the hurricane," Herman Rosa Chavez, El Salvador's minister of the environment and natural resources, told CNN.

Already, the rain in El Salvador has tripled the average rainfall for the month of October.

Gauges in the country were registering recent rainfall as high as 55 inches. In comparison, Hurricane Mitch dumped between 50 and 70 inches of rain in the Central American region.

"This phenomenon is of great magnitude," Rosa Chavez said.

A vital difference between the death toll now and in 1998 is that during Mitch, the rainfall came in a matter of a few days. This time, the precipitation has come over a period of more than a week.

The rain will continue for at least two more days, CNN International weather anchor Mari Ramos said.

"The risk for mudslides and flooding is great," she said.

October marks the end of the rainy season in the region and is the most susceptible to flooding because the ground is already saturated, Ramos said.

El Salvador was hit hardest by the low pressure system that produced the rain. According to the government, 32 people have been killed in the country, two are missing and 25 were injured. Nearly 35,000 people were evacuated and were housed in 267 shelters.

Schools in the entire country were closed, and officials warned residents to remain cautious.

"We have to tell the Salvadoran people not to be confused; today may be a better day, but you cannot abandon the shelters, you cannot cut short the evacuation process," said Jorge Melendez, director of civil protection.

In Guatemala, the national emergency agency, CONRED, reported more than 47,000 victims of the heavy rain. The number of dead also stood at 32, with seven missing and 12 injuries, the agency reported. Nearly 11,000 people have been evacuated, and 7,000 are in shelters.

At those shelters, the spread of respiratory illnesses is becoming a problem, the state-run AGN news agency reported. Some 117 such illnesses were reported in various shelters.

Meanwhile, the United States announced it was donating $50,000 to Guatemala for humanitarian aid.

"We are very worried for the Guatemalan communities affected so severely as a consequence of this tragedy; we are together in our thoughts and prayers with the people of Guatemala for the tragic loss of lives and the devastation," U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Arnold Chacon said, according to AGN.

Aerial shots of northern Guatemala showed vast flooding along rivers.

In Costa Rica, the overflowing of several rivers and creeks was responsible for the deaths of at least two people, the Red Cross reported. The victims were attempting to cross a swollen river and were swept away by the current, the Red Cross said.

Honduras and Nicaragua reported 13 deaths and 12 deaths, respectively.

In Nicaragua, video footage showed the military evacuating families from areas where the water was above their knees. The evacuees were escorted by soldiers to a waiting helicopter.

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