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Massive Guatemala sinkhole swallows factory and intersection

Published 02/06/2010

Sinkholes around the world - A sinkhole covers a street intersection in downtown Guatemala City
Sinkholes around the world - A sinkhole covers a street intersection in downtown Guatemala City
A sinkhole covers a street intersection in downtown Guatemala City
A sinkhole covers a street intersection in downtown Guatemala City
A sinkhole created by tropical storm Agatha covers a street intersection in dowtown of Guatemala City on Sunday, May 30, 2010
A woman and two children cross a flooded way after the Mico river overflowed in Amatitlan, Guatemala
In this photo release by Guatemala's Presidency, a flooded area is seen from the air after the tropical storm Agatha in Escuintla, Guatemala, Sunday, May 30, 2010. Torrential rains brought by Agatha, the first tropical storm of the 2010 season, pounded Central America and southern Mexico, triggering deadly landslides. (AP Photo/Guatemala's Presidency, Luis Echeverria)
A child reacts while villagers, unseen, recover the bodies of two people who died after a mudslide, triggered by the tropical storm Agatha, hit the village of Santa Apolonia, western Guatemala, Monday, May 31, 2010. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Women react after the bodies of relatives, killed during mudslides caused by the tropical storm Agatha, were recovered in Santa Apolonia, western Guatemala, Monday May 31, 2010. Flooding and landslides from the season's first tropical storm Agatha killed at least 142 people in Central America, officials said Monday. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Stunned onlookers gathered at a massive and almost perfectly circular sinkhole that swallowed an entire intersection in Guatemala City over the weekend, gulping down a clothing factory but causing no deaths or injuries.

Thousands are homeless and dozens are still missing after the season's first tropical storm. Rescue crews struggled to reach isolated communities to distribute food and water.

Officials in Guatemala reported 152 dead but said 100 people were still missing. In the department of Chimaltenango - a province west of Guatemala City - landslides buried rural Indian communities and killed at least 60 people.

Villagers used hoes and pick axes to hunt for victims of landslides that have killed at least 180 people in Central America while officials in Guatemala's capital tried to cope with a vast sinkhole that swallowed a clothing factory.

Authorities estimate the hole is 66 feet wide and nearly 100 feet deep, but they are still investigating what caused it.

Nearly 125,000 people were evacuated in Guatemala and thousands more fled their homes in neighbouring Honduras, where the death toll rose to 18.

In El Salvador, 11,000 people were evacuated. The death toll rose to 10 and two others were missing, President Mauricio Funes said.

About 95% of the country's roads were affected by landslides, but most remained open, transport minister Gerson Martinez said. He said 179 bridges had been wrecked.

Tropical Storm Agatha made landfall near the Guatemala-Mexico border on Saturday with winds of up to 45mph. It dissipated the following day over the mountains of western Guatemala.

The rising death toll is reminding nervous residents of Hurricane Mitch, which hovered over Central America for days in 1998, causing flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 11,000 people and left more than 8,000 missing and unaccounted for.

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