Two weeks of rain threaten major dam in Honduras; 100,000 people evacuated as floodgates are opened


SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- Torrential rains that have pelted Central America for two weeks threatened Honduras' major dam yesterday, forcing the evacuation of more than 100,000 people downstream.

The entire region has suffered from flooding that has killed 13 people and destroyed millions of dollars' worth of crops and buildings, many in areas devastated by Tropical Storm Mitch less than a year ago.

Concurrent rain-producing weather systems over the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea have swamped the Central American isthmus.

After swollen rivers washed away nine bridges in Honduras, authorities in El Salvador announced plans for dismantling temporary bridges erected after Mitch.

The number left homeless is now in the hundreds of thousands and is expected to increase. Six inches of rain are expected over the weekend.

In Honduras, where six people have died, floodgates were opened late Friday, sending 30 times the normal flow of water rushing into rivers and streams as officials struggled to save the El Cajon dam. The mounting pressure of water filling its reservoir could collapse the giant dam, they said.

Because El Cajon supplies about 60 percent of Honduras' electricity, presidential adviser Nahum Valladares warned people to expect rationing of power.

Evacuated residents were asked to find shelter with family and friends. With more than 40,000 Hondurans still homeless because of Mitch, government shelters are already filled.

Salvadoran authorities had made the decision to open floodgates a week earlier to save the hydroelectric dam on the Lempa River. On Tuesday, President Francisco Flores visited the region, known as the Lower Lempa, where 2,500 of El Salvador's poorest farmers lost an estimated 500 acres of crops and their homes when the floodgates were opened.

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