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Published October 14, 2007 10:07 PM

Torrential rains, floods kill 20 in Central America

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Emergency officials across Central America worked to clean up towns inundated by recent deadly floods and landslides, and braced for more bad weather on Sunday.

At least 20 people were killed and thousands evacuated across Central America after days of torrential rain sparked landslides and flooding.

The same weather system that killed 23 people in a Haitian village on Friday triggered a landslide that buried 14 people under mud and debris in Costa Rica.

Red Cross workers had been digging through the debris since Thursday, when about 2.5 acres (1 hectare) of land on a steep slope gave way and fell on the small town of Atenas, about 20 miles west of the Costa Rican capital.

"We found the last body this afternoon," Red Cross spokesman Federico Castillo said on Sunday.

Heavy rains put emergency services on high alert across the region as rivers burst their banks and sodden hillsides collapsed, blocking roads across the region, which is prone to killer storms and flooding.

Forecasters warned the weather could worsen Sunday evening.

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"There is some potential for this system to become a tropical depression later today or tonight," said the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center.

In Honduras, three children and their mother drowned on Saturday when an overloaded boat evacuating them capsized in a flooded river, rescue workers said.

Mudslides cut off thousands of villagers in poor rural regions of the coffee exporting nation. No damage to crops was reported.

El Salvador was also hit, with two men swept away by strong currents in two rivers swollen by the rains. Civil protection officials said about 500 people were evacuated because of the risk of rivers overflowing.

In Nicaragua, at least 4,000 people were evacuated when a banana growing region was put on red alert because of the flood risk. At least 10,000 people were considered at risk in Nicaragua.

Emergency service workers rushed villagers from their homes near the Casita volcano, the site of a devastating mudslide that killed close to 2,000 in 1998's Hurricane Mitch.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, was worst hit.

The loss of life in Cabaret, nestled in mountains about 19 miles north of capital Port-au-Prince, brought the toll from floods and mudslides across much of Haiti over the last two weeks to at least 31, civil protection officials said.

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