Storm Eta dumps heavy rain on Central America, sets path to Florida

MANAGUA/TEGUCIGALPA (REUTERS) – Storm Eta pummelled Nicaragua and Honduras with torrential rain on Wednesday (Nov 4) after triggering major floods and landslides in Central America, reportedly killing at least three people and stranding dozens of fishermen in the Atlantic.

Eta, one of the most powerful storms to strike Central America in years, hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, before weakening to a tropical storm as it forged inland in the impoverished country.

After losing more strength over Central America, Eta is forecast to return to the sea and regain momentum as a tropical storm, charting a course to Cuba and southern Florida this weekend, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

In its wake, the storm has left a whole swathe of damaged homes, roads and key infrastructure, while thousands of people have been evacuated.

About 60 fishermen were trapped out at sea in the eastern Mosquitia region of Honduras, possibly taking shelter on Caribbean keys, said Robin Morales, a representative of the local population.

A boat was sent on Wednesday to collect the body of one fishermen, who died from a heart attack, but the Navy will be needed to rescue others, Morales said.

So far, the Navy has not been able to attempt a rescue due to the dangerous conditions, said Douglas Espinal, head of the fire department in the port of Puerto Lempira.

The deluge was so extreme in the northern Honduran city of El Progreso that a prison was flooded to waist level, a wall collapsed and the facility’s 604 inmates were transferred to local gyms, police commissioner Juan Molina told local television.

The storm weakened in intensity around noon on Wednesday but it continued to produce “life-threatening flash flooding” in parts of Central America, the NHC said.

Nicaraguan media reported that two wildcat miners were killed by a mudslide.

In Honduras, a 13-year-old girl died in a landslide on her home, the fire department said By 12 noon local time, Eta was blowing winds of 72kmh, the NHC said. It was grinding through Nicaragua about 201km north-northeast of Nicaragua’s capital Managua, moving westward at 11kmh.

Eta could dump 25-51cm of rain on central and northern Nicaragua and much of Honduras, with up to 101cm in some areas, according to the latest NHC forecasts.

The storm knocked down trees and power lines and caused serious flooding in northern Nicaragua, national disaster management agency Sinapred said Tuesday. Still, Vice-President Rosario Murillo said the initial damage was less than feared.

In Honduras, rivers burst their banks, towns and cities on the Atlantic coast flooded, and landslides hit roads.

In Guatemala, the rains felled trees and unleashed landslides onto roads, authorities said.

Through Sunday, flash and river flooding is also possible across Jamaica, south-east Mexico, El Salvador, southern Haiti, and the Cayman Islands, NHC said.

The storm is forecast to advance further into Honduras on Wednesday before barreling over Belize and back out into the Caribbean over Cuba and Florida, the NHC said.

Eta is the 28th named tropical storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, tying a record set in 2005, the NHC said.

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