Several hundred people are dead across Central America as the first tropical storm of the season swept in from the Pacific Ocean. Tropical Storm Agatha has left many dead, caused hundreds of mudslides, created massive sink holes and power outages in its wake. In an attempt to secure aid, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have all declared a state of emergency. Guatemala appears to have taken the brunt of the storm with over 100 people dead and many more reported missing. Guatemala’s infrastructure has been so damaged that certain parts of the country are inaccessible, even as the storms moved over the western mountain ranges.The storm only added to the country’s woes as it was also dealing with the Pacaya volcano erupting in its southern region. In Guatemala City there is an entire intersection that has been swallowed up by a massive sinkhole.
The sinkhole, similar to the 2007 sinkhole, is estimated to be 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep. Sinkholes are natural depressions that form when water-soaked ground becomes too heavy and collapses through weak soil layers. Experts believe that Guatemala’s sinkhole has been years in the making. As the storms moved through Central America, El Salvador saw rains that triggered hundreds of landslides and an estimated 11,000 people have been evacuated to shelters. The Lempa River, which flows into the Pacific overflowed its banks and flood ravaged numerous villages. In Honduras over 500 homes were destroyed and thousands evacuated. More than 74,000 people in the region have been forced to flee their homes. As many Central Americans remain in shelters there is a fear of malaria, Dengue Fever and gastro intestional diseases spreading throughout the region. International relief in reaction to the regions devastation has been swift and varied. The European Union pledged 3.5M euros ($5.6M) in humanitarian aid to the region, while the United States sent military aircraft to Guatemala to aid in the evacuation from isolated areas. Mexico offers Guatemala, which it borders, use of its border airports so that aid being flown in would not be disrupted, as many Guatemalan airports are too damaged to function. Nonetheless, Guatemala is seeking $85M from the World Bank to help its rescue efforts and rebuild efforts from the storm and erupting volcano. In an precedented move, Guatemala’s foreign minister announced plans to ask for temporary protected status (TPS) for Guatemalans living in the U.S. Earlier, this year TPS was granted to Haitians living in the U.S. following its devastating earthquake. TPS allows immigrants from those countries living in the United States prior to the natural disaster occurring for which the TPS applicatio is sought, remain here legally until the status is removed, which can take many years.