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Rescuers tracking the muffled cries of children gave up...

By RAUL BELTRHAN

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- Rescuers tracking the muffled cries of children gave up hope Monday of finding them in a mudslide that buried a San Salvador suburb. Heavy floods nationwide left more than 500 dead and 30,000 homeless.

Salvadoran President Alvaro Magana declared a state of emergency in areas where heavy flooding and landslides were worst.

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'The number of victims by the lowest calculation is over 300' alone in the San Salvador suburb of Montebello Poniente, a government spokesman said.

The spokesman added officials have given up hope of finding any survivors under the tons of mud covering the town.

Previously, officials said about 200 other people died across the nation.

Salvadoran Green Cross worker Alfredo Mejia told United Press International 63 children were among those buried early Sunday in an avalanche that thundered down on Montebello, west of San Salvador.

He said rescuers struggled for hours to clear away rubble trapping many children heard crying, but the screams fell silent and the bodies still could not be reached.

'They heard the cries of a child, which stopped this afternoon without them being able to remove a tree trunk, iron structures and a roof of a house toppled by the avalanche,' he said.

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Officials said torrential rainfall starting six days ago caused flooding and massive mudslides in all 14 provinces of El Salvador.

Magana declared a state of emergency in the areas struck by the slides and ordered the nation's schools shut down. His declaration gives army troops the power to direct rescue efforts and frees emergency supplies for the disaster areas.

The International Red Cross and Salvadoran and Green Cross have called for urgent shipments of food and clothing from around the world for the homeless survivors.

Witnesses in the Montebello Poniente neighborhood said the avalanche of mud and water hit at about dawn.

'We heard a rumble beneath the earth like a million horses galloping,' said one woman who woke up her family just in time to avoid the disaster.

Roberto Campos, a nearby resident, said, 'The mud swept the houses away like they were toys and nobody could escape.'

Officials said the landslide was caused by a break in a wall that held back a heavy water run off from the neighboring dormant San Salvador volcano.

In neighboring Guatemala, the military regime Sunday declared the country in a state of emergency because of damage caused by the heavy rains that hit that Central American country the past week.

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In response to the state of emergency, Red Cross, firefighters and military troops were mobilized across the country.

Flooding and landslides cut off remote villages and stopped highway traffic on the major road to El Salvador, officials said. Inhabitants of Puerto San Jose on the Pacific coast took refuge in railroad box cars to escape flooding, authorities said.

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