Tropical Storm Eta spun through northern Nicaragua on Wednesday after lashing the country’s Caribbean coast for much of the past day, its floodwaters isolating already remote communities and setting off deadly landslides that killed at least three people.
The storm had weakened from the Category 4 hurricane that battered the coast, 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 80km/h (50mph) and was moving westward at 11km/h (7mph).
The long-term forecast shows Eta taking a turn over Central America and then reforming in the Caribbean – possibly reaching Cuba on Sunday and Florida on Monday.
On Wednesday morning, Eta was located 215km (135 miles) north-northeast of Managua.
Eta came ashore on Tuesday afternoon south of Bilwi after stalling just off the coast for hours. The city of about 60,000 had been without power since Monday evening. Corrugated metal roofing and uprooted trees were scattered through its streets. Some 20,000 of the area’s residents were in shelters.
Inland, about 160km (100 miles) west of where Eta made landfall, two gold miners were killed when a mountainside unleashed tonnes of mud on Tuesday morning. A third miner escaped the slide and sought help.
One body was recovered before rescuers had to suspend recovery efforts due to nightfall and there were fears that more slides could occur as the rain continued, said Lieutenant Cesar Malespin of the Bonanza Fire Department. Bonanza was getting lashed by strong winds and torrential rain, he said.
The storm also has been drenching neighbouring Honduras with rain since at least Sunday, and the country reported its first storm-related death on Tuesday. A 12-year-old girl died in a mudslide in San Pedro Sula, the main population centre in northern Honduras, said Marvin Aparicio of Honduran emergency management agency.
In Honduras, at least 559 people had to move to shelters or go to relatives’ homes to escape flooding, he said. At least 25 people had been rescued, he said. His agency reported at least six rivers causing significant flooding.
Forecasters said central and northern Nicaragua and much of Honduras could get 380mm to 635mm (15-25 inches) of rainfall, with up to 1,000mm (40 inches) in isolated areas. Heavy rains were also likely in eastern Guatemala, southern Belize and Jamaica.
The quantities of rain expected drew comparisons to 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes in history. The US National Hurricane Center says Mitch led to the deaths of more than 9,000 people.