Julia brings heavy rains to Central America, killing at least 16

While hurricane downgraded to a tropical depression, authorities say it could bring dangerous flash flooding and mudslides.

Flooding in Nicaragua
Fishermen look at boats partially submerged in water after Hurricane Julia swept through Nicaragua on Sunday [Inti Ocon/AP Photo]

Tropical storm Julia has drenched the Central American nations of Guatemala and El Salvador, killing more than a dozen people across the region and forcing authorities to evacuate hundreds of residents and set up emergency shelters.

Julia has been downgraded to a tropical depression, bringing wind speeds of 60 kilometres per hour (37 miles per hour) to Guatemala on Monday, down from 140km/h (85mph) when the storm hit the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua as a hurricane a day earlier.

While the storm has started to ease and is expected to dissipate later on Monday, authorities warned that dangerous conditions could persist.

“Life-threatening flash floods and mudslides should continue from Julia across Central American and Southern Mexico through Tuesday,” the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory.

The Miami-based NHC also said 13 to 24cm (five to 10 inches) of rainfall was possible in El Salvador and southern Guatemala.

Guatemala declared a 30-day state of emergency on Monday to help authorities “implement urgent measures to safeguard the lives of Guatemalans”, President Alejandro Giammattei said on Twitter.

Julia has killed at least 16 people so far, authorities said, with El Salvador reporting the deaths of nine people, including five soldiers. The country’s civil protection agency also said at least 830 people had been evacuated and 80 storm shelters opened in response to the storm.

In Honduras, five victims have been confirmed, including a 22-year-old woman who died on Sunday after she was swept away by floodwaters. A young woman and a four-year-old boy were killed when a boat capsized near the Nicaraguan border on Saturday night, officials said.

Honduran authorities said 9,200 people had sought refuge in shelters.

Panama’s emergency services later on Monday confirmed two deaths as a result of heavy rains, along with about 300 people evacuated from communities near the country’s border with Costa Rica.

Nicaraguan authorities said 9,500 people have been placed in storm shelters while 1,300 others were forced to flee their homes in Guatemala, where two people are missing and two have been hospitalised.

About one million people in Nicaragua’s coastal region lost power due to damaged landlines and a decision by the government to cut electricity for safety reasons.

“It’s still raining, water has surrounded us, we have been without power and water since early morning, several houses are without roofs and many trees are down on the road,” Julio Hernandez, a resident of Rio Blanco in central Nicaragua, told the AFP news agency.

Julia is the latest storm to bring flooding, destruction and deaths to the Americas.

Hurricane Ian caused widespread power outages in Cuba before gaining strength and slamming into Florida in late September, killing more than 80 people and inundating swathes of the US state.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies