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13 dead, 22 missing in Guatemala and Mexico after heavy rains and flash floods

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Two children and four adults were found dead on Monday after a river swollen by heavy rains swept away shacks built on its banks in the Guatemalan capital, authorities said.

Thirteen people, including eight children, were still missing after the river tore through the Dios es Fiel (God is Faithful) shantytown in the early morning hours, according to the Conred disaster relief agency.

Hundreds of firemen, police, soldiers, and volunteers were taking part in the rescue efforts.

The Naranjo river washed away six homes in an informal settlement erected under a bridge in the centre of Guatemala City, Conred spokesman Rodolfo Garcia told reporters.

The Naranjo River moves through the Dios es fiel, or “God is Loyal” shanty on the outskirts of Guatemala City on Monday. Photo: AP

Hundreds of homeless people had erected shacks consisting mainly of zinc sheets on the banks of the river despite a municipal prohibition due to it containing residential waste water from the capital’s sewage system.

Water bearing stones, soil and human waste gushed through the settlement following heavy rains on Sunday, leaving mainly just debris in its wake, an Agence France-Presse reporter said.

Resident Esau Gonzalez, a 42-year-old casual worker, told how “the river … took homes, neighbours’ belongings. Neighbours disappeared.”

Gonzalez said the people of the community had nowhere else to go.

“Rent is very high. Salaries are not enough to pay rent with,” he said.

“The river took entire families,” added Marvin Cabrera, 36, a motorcycle food delivery worker.

“We knew the risk, (but) we are here out of necessity,” he added.

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Iris Lopez, 27, said she hoped the government would move the community to a safer place, adding “nothing remained” of the rickety house of her sister, who was away visiting their mother.

“If she was here, she would have been taken by the river,” said Lopez.

Tens of thousands of Guatemala’s 17.7 million inhabitants depend on precarious housing in often hazardous environments such as this one in a country with a 59 per cent poverty rate.

The country has a housing deficit of about two million units, according to the Guatemalan Chamber of Construction and the ANACOVI builders’ association.

The rainy season, which runs from May to November, has this year claimed 29 lives so far, affected some 2.1 million people of whom more than 10,000 lost their homes, and destroyed four roads and nine bridges.

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In nearby Mexico, at least seven people died and nine were missing after heavy rain turned a mountain stream into a torrent of muddy floodwater that swept away villagers, authorities said.

The bodies of some victims were reported to have been found several kilometres downstream from where they disappeared near Autlan in the western state of Jalisco.

“There are nine people missing and seven dead,” local civil protection official Juan Ignacio Arroyo Verastegui said, based on preliminary figures.

Deforestation and a fire earlier this year caused significant damage to the wooded area and could have contributed to the flash flooding, he said.

Dozens of rescuers were deployed in the area to search for the missing, authorities said.

Mexico is regularly hit by flooding and tropical storms.

Scientists say that climate change is increasing the risk of heavy rain because warmer air holds more moisture.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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