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Tropical Storm Agatha Deaths Rise To 179 In Central America

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GUATEMALA CITY — Villagers used hoes and pick axes on Tuesday 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.

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

"This is a total tragedy," said Jose Vicente Samayoa, president of a neighborhood group in Amatitlan, a flooded town south of Guatemala's capital.

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.

Curious onlookers also 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.

Authorities estimate the hole is 66 feet (20 meters) wide and nearly 100 feet (30 meters) deep, but they are still investigating what caused it.

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

Most schools also resumed classes on Tuesday in Honduras.

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

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

Agatha made landfall near the Guatemala-Mexico border on Saturday with tropical storm winds of up to 45 mph (75 kph). 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.

Rescue efforts in Guatemala have been complicated by a volcanic eruption Thursday near the capital that blanketed parts of the area with ash.

Commercial flights were expected to resume Tuesday at Guatemala's international airport.

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Associated Press writers Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Diego Mendez in San Salvador, El Salvador, contributed to this report.