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Nov. 4, 2020, 10:22 p.m. EST

Eta leaves devastation in Central America, could reach Florida by Monday

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By Associated Press

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Eta moved into Honduras on Wednesday as a weakened tropical depression but still bringing the heavy rains that have drenched and caused deadly landslides in the country’s east and in northern Nicaragua.

The storm no longer carried the winds of the Category 4 hurricane that battered Nicaragua’s coast Tuesday, but it was moving so slowly and dumping so much rain that much of Central America was on high alert. Eta had sustained winds of 35 mph and was moving west-northwest at 7 mph Wednesday night. It was 115 miles south-southeast of La Ceiba.

The long-term forecast shows Eta taking a turn over Central America and then reforming as a tropical storm in the Caribbean — possibly reaching Cuba on Sunday and southern Florida on Monday.

Heavy rain was forecast to continue across Honduras through at least Thursday as Eta moved northward toward the capital of Tegucigalpa and the northern city of San Pedro Sula.

Before the center of Eta had even reached Honduras, hundreds of people had been forced from their homes by floodwaters.

Early Tuesday, a 12-year-old girl died in a mudslide in San Pedro Sula, said Marvin Aparicio of Honduras’ emergency management agency.

On Wednesday afternoon, confirmation came from Honduras’ emergency management agency of the death of a 15-year-old boy in the central Honduras town of Sulaco. Mayor Edy Chacón said the boy drowned trying to cross a rain-swollen river. That brought the storm’s death toll to at least four in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Aparicio said Wednesday that some 379 homes had been destroyed, mostly by floodwaters. There were 38 communities cut off by washed out roads and five bridges in the country were wiped out by swollen rivers.

Among those rescued from their flooded homes were Óscar Armando Martínez Flores, his wife and seven children. Their home near the Lancetilla river in northeast Honduras flooded. They made it out only with the clothes they were wearing.

“The rains began Monday and the river overflowed,” Martínez said Wednesday from a sports complex serving as a shelter in the city of Tela. “The firefighters and police arrived to take us out because the houses were flooded.”

Martínez was already in dire straits before the storm. A construction worker, he hadn’t been able to find work in eight months since the coronavirus pandemic began there. He has been selling tortillas to keep his family afloat.

Francisco Argeñal chief of meteorology at Honduras’ Center for Atmospheric, Oceanographic and Seismic Studies, said he expected more of the country’s rivers to jump their banks.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center forecast that parts of Nicaragua and Honduras could receive 15 to 25 inches of rain, with 40 inches possible in some isolated parts.

Eta left a path of destruction across northern Nicaragua starting with the coastal city of Bilwi.

In Bilwi on Wednesday, civil defense brigades worked to clear streets of downed trees, power lines and sheets of metal roofing. Some neighborhoods were completely flooded. Vice President and first lady Rosario Murillo said more than 51,000 families remained without power in the affected areas.

“The debris teams are starting to work and we still can’t give a sense of what happened,” said Ivania Díaz, a local government official in Bilwi. “We have seen very humble homes completely destroyed.”

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