Vast sinkhole swallows factory
Published 02/06/2010 | 11:09
Villagers used hoes and pick axes to hunt for victims of landslides that have killed at least 180 people in Central America while officials in Guatemala's capital tried to cope with a vast sinkhole that swallowed a clothing factory.
Curious onlookers gathered at a massive and almost perfectly circular sinkhole that swallowed an entire intersection in Guatemala City over the weekend, gulping down a clothing factory but causing no deaths or injuries.
Authorities estimate the hole is 66 feet wide and nearly 100 feet deep, but they are still investigating what caused it.
Geologists said that the circular shape suggested a cave formation underneath, but what exactly caused the sinkhole was still a mystery.
"I can tell you what it's not: It's not a geological fault, and it's not the product of an earthquake," said David Monterroso, a geophysics engineer at the National Disaster Management Agency. "That's all we know. We're going to have to descend."
Thousands are homeless and dozens are still missing after the season's first tropical storm. Rescue crews struggled to reach isolated communities to distribute food and water.
Officials in Guatemala reported 152 dead but said 100 people were still missing. In the department of Chimaltenango - a province west of Guatemala City - landslides buried rural Indian communities and killed at least 60 people.
Nearly 125,000 people were evacuated in Guatemala and thousands more fled their homes in neighbouring Honduras, where the death toll rose to 18.
In El Salvador, 11,000 people were evacuated. The death toll rose to 10 and two others were missing, President Mauricio Funes said.
About 95pc of the country's roads were affected by landslides, but most remained open, transport minister Gerson Martinez said. He said 179 bridges had been wrecked.
Tropical Storm Agatha made landfall near the Guatemala-Mexico border on Saturday with winds of up to 72kph. It dissipated the following day over the mountains of western Guatemala.
The rising death toll is reminding nervous residents of Hurricane Mitch, which hovered over Central America for days in 1998, causing flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 11,000 people and left more than 8,000 missing and unaccounted for.