Central American Storms Kill at Least 9 Persons, Aid Rushed to Flood Areas

June 5, 2008

Flash flooding carried away houses and ripped a child from his father’s grasp in Belize, while falling trees killed two people in Honduras on Tuesday, raising the death toll from Central America’s twin tropical storms to at least nine.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow declared a disaster area Tuesday in southern Belize’s Stann Creek Valley, and the government rushed food, water and clothing to more than 13,000 people affected by the floods.

Over the weekend, Pacific Tropical Storm Alma swept over Belize hours before Tropical Storm Arthur roared in from the Caribbean at the Mexico-Belize border.

Witnesses said a couple and their 14-year-old daughter died when a flash flood swept away a house in Stann Creek Valley early Monday. The couple’s 12-year-old son is missing. “The water just come right up and picked up their house and took it down there and mashed it up,” Bedford Ritchie told Channel 7.

Wellington McKenzie said a friend drowned trying to help him rescue people in their neighborhood.

Officials also were searching for a young boy who was pulled from his father’s arms by floodwaters as the two tried to reach the safety of a mango tree. “I went underneath the water and I bit my little boy in his hand, just to hold him, and by the time I came up back, he was gone,” Philberto Roches, told Channel 7. “I turned around and tried to find him and never did.”

The government confirmed four people died and three were missing.

Nicaragua’s navy announced it found the storm-wrecked boat and body of one of three Costa Rican fishermen missing since Thursday, and it was still searching for the two other missing men. One man was electrocuted earlier by wind-whipped power lines in Nicaragua.

Strong winds knocked down trees in Honduras on Tuesday, killing a man and a woman, said regional emergency chief Carlos Gonzalez. Honduran forecasters blamed the winds and rain on the remnants of Arthur. A 7-year-old girl drowned earlier in Honduras.

In Belize, high waters left dozens stranded on their roofs and damaged highways. Work to repair one important highway proved futile after waters rose overnight and washed away the repaired section.

The destruction of the bridge cut off access to the port at Big Creek, threatening oil and shrimp exports. The government said it would build a provisional single span bridge until it can construct a permanent replacement.

The weather also wiped out Papaya plantations, shrimp farms and rice crops.

Several countries offered aid. British helicopters helped rescue stranded people, while Mexico provided a chopper capable of carrying two truckloads of relief supplies. Officials in Mexico’s Gulf coast state of Tabasco reported that thousands of people were forced from their homes by flooding.

Mexico’s Communications and Transportation Department said Tuesday that the Gulf oil port of Dos Bocas had reopened while Cayo Arcas still was closed because of strong winds and rough seas. Mexico exports roughly 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, mainly to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

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