Weakened Eta drenches Central America; at least 57 dead

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A pregnant woman is carried out of an area flooded by water brought by Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The storm that hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday had become more of a vast tropical rainstorm, but it was advancing so slowly and dumping so much rain that much of Central America remained on high alert. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)

TEGUCIGALPA – The rain-heavy remnants of Hurricane Eta flooded homes from Panama to Guatemala Thursday as the death toll across Central America rose to at least 57, and aid organizations warned the flooding and mudslides were creating a slow-moving humanitarian disaster across the region.

The storm that hit Nicaragua as a mighty Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday had become more of a vast tropical rainstorm, but it was advancing so slowly and dumping so much rain that much of Central America remained on high alert. Forecasters said the now-tropical depression was expected to regather and head toward Cuba and possibly the Gulf of Mexico by early next week.

On Thursday afternoon, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said a water-soaked mountainside in the central part of the country had slid down onto the town of San Cristobal Verapaz, burying homes and leaving at least 25 dead.

Two other slides in Huehuetenango had killed at least 12 more, he said. The president initially said more than 50 people had died in slides, but the individual incidents he cited did not reach that total. Later, David de León, spokesman for the national disaster agency, said there were reports of 50 people missing in the Verapaz slide, but government rescue teams had not reached the site.

Earlier Thursday, five others had been killed in smaller slides in Guatemala.

Giammattei said on that 60% of the eastern city of Puerto Barrios was flooded and 48 more hours of rain was expected.

Guatemala’s toll was on top of 13 victims in Honduras and two in Nicaragua. Panamanian authorities reported eight missing.

Eta had sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph) and was moving north at 8 mph (13 kph) Thursday. It was centered 85 miles (140 kilometers) northwest of La Ceiba, Honduras.