Central American Flooding Leaves 160 Dead

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Rescue workers searched for victims of a mudslide near a volcano-ringed lake popular with tourists in Guatemala (search), as the death toll in the region from flooding sparked by heavy rains climbed above 160.

Downpours have battered Central America and southern Mexico since the weekend, causing rivers to overflow and sweeping away homes and people. The floods caused huge chunks of land to give way, burying everything in their path.

The storms have killed at least 79 people in Guatemala, but officials said they have not yet counted all the casualties. In neighboring El Salvador (search), 62 people have died.

Elsewhere in Central America, nine people have died in Nicaragua (search), four in Honduras (search) and one in Costa Rica, most from landslides triggered by heavy rains. In the southern Mexican state of Chiapas (search), officials said six people were killed.

Forecasters at the U.S. Hurricane Center (search) said the rain was likely to continue for the next few days.

The hardest hit area appeared to be a town close to Lake Atitlan (search), a breathtaking freshwater reserve surrounded by volcanos and Mayan communities, 60 miles west of the capital Guatemala City.

Emergency officials there pulled 15 bodies from the mud and said the death toll would likely rise when authorities were able to step up search efforts hindered by continued rains.

"We have 79 deaths, but we have not finished a final count," Benedicto Giron, a spokesman for emergency response officials, said late Wednesday.

In El Salvador, President Tony Saca said 62 people had been killed, mostly by landslides following days of nonstop rain throughout the country. Some 40,000 others fled their homes.

In southern Mexico, the states of Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca were coping with flooding left behind by Hurricane Stan (search), which came ashore along the Gulf Coast early Tuesday and brought more rain to many areas already coping with flooding from other storms.

The bustling city of Tapachula (search), near the border with Guatemala, was cut off from the surrounding area by flood waters, which destroyed bridges and engulfed highways, leaving the area mostly without electricity and phone service.

Chiapas Gov. Pablo Salazar (search) warned that continued rain likely meant the worst was yet to come.

Mexican PresidentVicente Fox (search) visited the state and said upon his return: "We ask families there in Chiapas to first dedicate all of their attention to protecting their lives, their health and their family members."

In the neighboring state of Oaxaca (search), a landslide killed a couple and army and navy personnel were scrambling to evacuate thousands from eight cities near a river dangerously close to unleashing flood waters Wednesday night.

Authorities in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz (search), which took a direct hit from Hurricane Stan, said three people were killed and seven injured there, in addition to about 38,000 who were forced to leave their homes and head for higher ground temporarily.