The remnants of Hurricane Eta unleashed torrential rains and catastrophic flooding on Central America, killing at least 50 people and turning streets into rivers in Guatemala, according to the country’s president, Alejandro Giammattei.
In the Guatemalan town of San Cristóbal Verapaz, located about 193 kilometres north of Guatemala City, 15 homes have “probably” been covered by mudslides, possibly affecting some 75 people, disaster relief agency Conred said in a statement on Thursday.
Giammattei declared a state of emergency in nearly half of the country’s 22 departments earlier in the day.
One of the fiercest storms to hit Central America in years, Eta struck Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday with winds of 241 km/h before weakening to a tropical depression as it moved inland and into neighbouring Honduras.
In both Guatemala and Panama, several people have been reported missing, while in Honduras hundreds of people are stranded on roofs awaiting rescue as water levels continue to rise.
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 Carchá, television footage and images posted on social media showed.
Desperate for help
“The situation is serious. It’s shocking and needs to be dealt with professionally, fast,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández told HCH television, pointing to reports of people stranded or stuck on roofs of flooded homes.
One unidentified woman made a desperate plea for help on Honduran television from La Lima, a municipality southeast of San Pedro Sula.
“I’ve got five children on the roof of my house, and nobody’s helping me to get them down,” she said.
Damage and destruction had spread across the “vast majority” of Honduras, and speedboats and helicopters would be sent to rescue people in inaccessible areas, Hernández said.
Eta was moving northwest through Honduras toward the Caribbean, at 13 km/h on Thursday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Heavy rains continued, and the storm’s top winds edged up to 56 km/h.
Eta 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, NHC said.