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article imageStorm Eta takes a heavy toll as it tears across Central America

By Edgar CALDERON (AFP)     Nov 5, 2020 in Environment

Scores of people, including 50 in Guatemala, have died as the remnants of Hurricane Eta on Thursday unleashed floods and triggered landslides on its deadly march across Central America.

Eta struck the Caribbean coast of northern Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday, tearing through impoverished coastal areas and sweeping away whole villages.

Two days later it exited Honduras as a tropical depression, although weather forecasters warned it could again strengthen into a tropical storm as it heads towards Cuba.

The storm brought heavy rain that caused deadly flooding in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama.

Residents of Bambito  Panama head to a shelter after the local river overflowed due to heavy rains c...
Residents of Bambito, Panama head to a shelter after the local river overflowed due to heavy rains caused by storm Eta
Luis Acosta, AFP

More than 50 people in Guatemala were killed in landslides unleashed by Eta, President Alejandro Giammattei said Thursday.

"In the morning we had four dead, now the figure is over 50 dead," Giammattei told reporters late Thursday as he visited a flood-hit area of the country's battered Caribbean coast.

Giammattei said that one landslide buried 25 homes in an indigenous community in the north of the country.

The president said it was impossible to reach the area because roads had collapsed due to the heavy rain.

Around 10 people were killed in Huehuetenango in northwestern Guatemala, in another landslide.

The civil protection agency earlier reported that five people died in separate landslides, including two children aged 11 and two, whose fragile family dwelling was swept away.

The Guatemala deaths brought the overall toll from Eta to more than 60, as earlier officials said 18 people had died across the region.

Eta made landfall as a Category Four hurricane at Bilwi  Nicaragua  causing devastating damage
Eta made landfall as a Category Four hurricane at Bilwi, Nicaragua, causing devastating damage

Panama also felt the force of Eta's wrath, as landslides buried two homes in Chiriqui province on the Costa Rican border, killing five people, the National Protection System said. Among the victims were three children.

Landslides also claimed the lives of two children in Honduras, emergency services reported.

In Costa Rica, a 71-year-old American and his Costa Rican wife died when a landslide buried their home in the southern canton of Coto Brus, on the border with Panama. Emergency workers recovered their bodies.

- Widespread flooding -

In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernandez ordered the army to mobilize helicopters and boats to evacuate flooded areas amid reports of "intense and catastrophic" rain hitting the capital Tegucigalpa and its population of one million.

Residents of the town of Morales  Guatemala wade through flood water to safety  as storm Eta pounds ...
Residents of the town of Morales, Guatemala wade through flood water to safety, as storm Eta pounds the region

Landslides swept away roads and bridges around the country.

San Pedro Sula, the country's second-largest city, as well as the industrial valley in which it sits, were badly hit by floodwaters after the Ulua and Chamelecon rivers overflowed.

Across northern Honduras scores of people were forced to flee to the roofs of their homes as floodwaters rose, relief agencies said.

Overall more than 330,000 people had been affected by the floods in Honduras, disaster agency COPECO said, with 3,000 already evacuated from the path of the storm on Wednesday.

Two children, an eight-year-old and a toddler of 11 months, died when a mudslide swept their home away in the northwestern department of Santa Barbara, police said.

Two other children were killed in similar circumstances in the country's south, authorities reported Wednesday.

Heavy rain from storm Eta caused the Ulua river to overflow and flood large areas of El Progreso  Ho...
Heavy rain from storm Eta caused the Ulua river to overflow and flood large areas of El Progreso, Honduras

In Morales, northeastern Guatemala, flood victims were being sheltered in a sports stadium.

"My whole house is full of water. I've lost everything. My chickens and my little pig were swept away by the river," said Eliseo Gonzales, a retired driver who found refuge there.

In El Salvador, officials reported 26 landslides blocking roads, and said nearly 2,000 people had been evacuated amid heavy rains and flooding.

- Flash flooding warning -

A boy and a man save chairs from a flooded house as heavy rains from tropical depression Eta cause f...
A boy and a man save chairs from a flooded house as heavy rains from tropical depression Eta cause flooding in Izabal, north of Guatemala City in November 2020

Even as Eta eased to a tropical depression, the US National Hurricane Center continued to warn of "life-threatening flash flooding" over portions of Central America.

Eta slammed ashore at the northern Nicaraguan coastal town of Bilwi -- also known as Puerto Cabezas -- on Tuesday packing winds of 130 miles (210 kilometers) per hour that knocked over walls, uprooted trees, downed power lines and tore roofs off dwellings.

As the surface layer of oceans warms due to climate change, hurricanes are becoming more powerful and carrying more water, posing an increasing threat to the world's coastal communities, scientists say.

Storm surges amplified by rising seas can be especially devastating.

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