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Heavy rains, landslides kill at least 37 in Guatemala

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Mudslides cause havoc in Guatemala
  • The death toll could reach 100, national emergency agency says
  • 30 people are injured and 23 missing, says emergency official
  • President Alvaro Colom declares a national emergency
  • The rains come several months after Tropical Storm Agatha lashed the nation

Guatemala City, Guatemala (CNN) -- Torrential rains and landslides in Guatemala have killed at least 37 people, and could claim as many as 100 lives, the country's emergency services agency said Sunday.

In addition, it reported 30 people were injured and 23 were missing after heavy weekend rains caused hillsides to collapse.

President Alvaro Colom declared a national emergency Saturday.

He told reporters that authorities closed parts of the Inter-American Highway after rains washed out entire sections of the road and caused at least two accidents over the weekend.

The first, near kilometer marker 82, claimed 12 lives when a bus was buried, according to Colom's office.

Landslides also fell at kilometer marker 171, knocking a number of vehicles and a bus off the road. When nearby residents rushed to the scene to help, a second mudslide crashed down on the exact same spot, said the emergency agency.

Throughout the country, authorities have recovered 37 bodies but more are expected, officials have said.

Thousands of homes, in addition to infrastructure and fields of crops, also were damaged by the heavy rains.

Nearly 42,000 people have been affected and more than 10,000 have been evacuated from the area, said emergency spokesman David De Leon Villeda. Nearly 7,000 people are housed in shelters.

The torrential downpours come several months after more than 150 people died when Tropical Storm Agatha hit Guatemala in May.

Destruction from that storm was widespread throughout the nation, with mudslides destroying homes and buildings and burying some victims. At least nine rivers had dramatically higher levels and 13 bridges collapsed, Guatemala's emergency services agency said.

The May downpours created a sinkhole the size of a street intersection in northern Guatemala City. Residents told CNN that a three-story building and a house fell into the hole.

Journalist Miguel Escalona contributed to this report.