Deadly storm leaves 3 Central American countries with multimillion-dollar cleanup bill

By Juan Carlos Llorca, AP
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Central America faces huge bill after storm damage

GUATEMALA CITY — Three Central American countries battered by landslides and flooding are reassigning aid loans to help offset millions of dollars in damage caused by the season’s first tropical storm, which killed 184 people.

Authorities in Guatemala — the hardest hit by Tropical Storm Agatha — said Wednesday that $190 million in loans will be used to rebuild dozens of bridges and renovate homes for nearly 25,000 families.

The amount includes $85 million that the World Bank had slated for disaster preparedness, while other loans, including those designated to improve education, will be used to repair schools and other buildings, government spokesman Ronaldo Robles told The Associated Press.

He also warned of huge losses in the agriculture sector.

The country’s association of exporters reported a 75 percent drop in production in the vegetable and shrimp industries, while the National Coffee Association forecast a loss of 122,000 bags this season.

In Honduras, the government estimated the storm caused $90 million worth of damage, including $25 million in agricultural losses. Vice Livestock Minister Juan Carlos Ordonez predicted those figures will increase, saying inspection teams had barely started to report on damage across the country, which is the fourth poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

El Salvador’s transportation minister, Gerson Martinez, said reconstruction efforts there could reach $20 million. Officials expected to release further details later.

Agatha made landfall Saturday near the Guatemala-Mexico border with tropical storm winds of up to 45 mph (75 kph). It dissipated the following day after causing landslides and floods that killed 184 people and left tens of thousands homeless.

Pope Benedict XVI issued a statement Wednesday urging the international community to provide humanitarian aid.

The European Union pledged $3.9 million, while the U.S. sent helicopters to Guatemala to help with rescue efforts and Japan promised Honduras more than $100,000 worth of emergency supplies.

Guatemalan Vice Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Ibarra said his country also would seek a temporary halt in deportations by the U.S. of Guatemalan migrants.

Associated Press Writer Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report.

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