Hurricane Eta unleashed torrential rains and catastrophic flooding on Central America, with fatalities rising sharply mostly because of mudslides as streets turned into rivers and bridges came tumbling down.
More than 70 people were reported killed across the region of mostly poor countries wedged between Mexico and Colombia, and at least hundreds were stranded on rooftops or cut off by floods.
In Guatemala, the death toll shot up past 50 over the course of Thursday, according to President Alejandro Giammattei, who said mudslides around a couple small towns swallowed about a couple dozen homes.
“Right now, we’re trying to get there on foot because there’s no other way,” said Giammattei, referring to flooded out roads that complicated rescue efforts.
One of the fiercest storms to hit Central America in years, Eta struck Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday with winds of 150 miles per hour before weakening to a tropical depression as it moved inland and into neighboring Honduras.
Families waded through flooded streets of the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, while cars sat almost submerged in parts of the central Guatemalan city of San Pedro Carcha, images posted on social media showed.
— Ashley Morales C. (@ashmoralesc) November 6, 2020
I know we are focused on the U.S. election but please pray for my family and the people of Honduras dealing with massive flooding from Hurricane Eta 🇭🇳 pic.twitter.com/S5sTJ4F5Uk
— Gabey Da Baby™️ (@BigGabeO) November 5, 2020
Overall, eight fatalities were confirmed in Honduras, as more than 5,000 people were holed up in shelters while 63 communities were cut off from communications, according to the government. Officials said 20 bridges there had been destroyed.
The government said about 500 people were rescued from their roofs in Honduras on Thursday as water levels continued to rise, but many others were likely still stranded.
In southern Costa Rica, a landslide killed two people in a house, a woman and an American man, officials said. Meanwhile, five people, including three children, died in flooding in Panama’s Chiriqui province, near the Costa Rica border, authorities said.
There was at least one silver lining in Honduras, where 60 fishermen who disappeared at sea on Tuesday returned after taking shelter on cays until they were rescued, said community leader Robin Morales.
Across swathes of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica, high winds and heavy rain have damaged hundreds if not thousands of homes, forcing thousands to take cover in shelters.
Eta was moving northwest over Honduras and Belize and headed toward the Caribbean, at eight miles per hour on Thursday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Heavy rains continued and the storm’s top winds edged up to 35 mph.
It is forecast to return to sea and regain momentum as a tropical storm, possibly reaching the Cayman Islands, Cuba and southern Florida in the coming days, the NHC said.