BY Associated Press
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The rain-heavy remnants of Hurricane Eta flooded homes from Panama to Guatemala Thursday as the death toll across Central America rose to 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, Guatemala 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. Earlier Thursday, five others had been killed in smaller slides in Guatemala.
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 and was moving north-northwest at 8 mph Thursday. It was centered 65 miles west-northwest of La Ceiba, Honduras.
In Guatemala, two children died when their home collapsed under heavy rains in the central department of Quiche, according to a statement by local firefighters. A third person also died in Quiche, but details were not immediately available. Giammattei confirmed a fourth death in a landslide in Chinautla Wednesday night.
On Thursday, Giammattei said on local radio that 60% of the eastern city of Puerto Barrios was flooded and 48 more hours of rain was expected.
Honduras’ National Police said six more bodies had been found, bringing that country’s toll to 13. The bodies of two adults and two children were found after excavations in a mudslide that occurred Wednesday in the township of Gualala, and two boys aged 8 and 11 died in another mudslide in the township of El Níspero.
Earlier, residents found the body of a girl buried in a landslide Wednesday in mountains outside the north coast city of Tela. In the same area, a landslide buried a home with a mother and two children inside it, according to Honduras Fire Department spokesman Óscar Triminio. He said there was also a 2-year-old girl killed in Santa Barbara department when she was swept away by floodwaters.
Heavy rain was forecast to continue across Honduras through at least Thursday as Eta moves toward the northern city of San Pedro Sula.
Dozens of residents of a San Pedro Sula neighborhood had to abandon their homes at 4 a.m. Thursday when water from the Chamelecon river arrived at their doorsteps.
Honduran officials earlier reported that a 12-year-old girl died in a mudslide and a 15-year-old boy drowned trying to cross a rain-swollen river.
Marvin Aparicio of Honduras’ emergency management agency said Wednesday that some 457 homes had been damaged, mostly by floodwaters. There were 41 communities cut off by washed out roads.
Among those rescued were Karen Patricia Serrano, her husband and five children. Their home was flooded with waters from the Lancetilla river and they had been in a shelter in Tela since Monday.
“We lost everything,” the 32-year-old woman said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. I even lost my little animals,” she said, referring to chickens, cats and dogs.