By Marlon Gonzal, The Associated Press
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) – Etah moved into Honduras on Wednesday as a weak tropical depression, but still caused horrific and terrible landslides in the country’s east and northern Nicaragua.
The storm did not drive the winds of the Category 4 hurricane that struck Tuesday off the coast of Nicaragua, but it was moving so slowly and raining so much that much of Central America was on high alert. Ita had a wind speed of 35 mph (55 kmph) and was moving west at a speed of 7 mph (11 kmph). It was 70 miles (115 kilometers) east of Tegucigalpa.
Long-term forecasts suggest Etah is taking a turn in Central America and then improving as a tropical storm in the Caribbean – possibly reaching Cuba on Sunday and southern Florida on Monday.
Heavy rain was forecast in Honduras at least through Thursday as Etah moved northward towards the capital of Tegucigalpa and the northern city of San Pedro Sula.
Hundreds of people were forced from their homes by the floodwaters before Etah’s center reached Honduras.
Early Tuesday, a 12-year-old girl died in San Pedro Sula, said Marvin Apparicio of the Emergency Management Agency of Honduras.
On Wednesday afternoon, the death of a 15-year-old boy in the central Honduras city of Sallaco was confirmed by the Emergency Management Agency of Honduras. Mayor Eddie Chacon said the boy was trying to cross a river drowned in rain. This has led to storm deaths in Nicaragua and Honduras by at least four.
Aparicio said on Wednesday that about 379 homes were devastated, mostly from flood waters. 38 communities were cut by washed roads and five bridges in the country were wiped out by rivers.
Among those rescued from their flooded homes were Arm Sucker Armando Martinez Floors, his wife and seven children. His house was filled near the Lancetilla River in northeastern Honduras. They made it with only their worn clothes.
“The rain started Monday and the river overflowed,” Martinez said Wednesday from a sports complex serving as a shelter in the town of Telha. “Fire and police arrived to take us out as the houses were flooded.”
Martinez was already under severe stress before the storm. A construction worker, he had not been able to work in eight months since the coronovirus epidemic began there. He is selling tortill to save his family.
Francisco Arsenal, head of meteorology at Honduras’ Center for Atmospheric, Oceanographic and Seismic Studies, said he hoped the country’s rivers would jump into its banks.
The US National Hurricane Center forecasts that parts of Nicaragua and Honduras may receive between 15 and 25 inches (380 to 635 millimeters) of rain, while 40 inches (1,000 millimeters) is possible in some isolated parts.
Eta left a path of destruction that began with the northern Nicaragua’s coastal city of Bilvi.
In Bilawi on Wednesday, the Civil Defense Brigade undertook to clean down roads, power lines and metal roofing sheets. Some neighborhoods were completely swept away. Vice President and first lady Rosario Murillo said that more than 51,000 families remained without power in the affected areas.
“The wrecking teams are starting to work and we still can’t figure it out,” said Ivania Diaz, a local government official from Bilvi. “We have seen very humble houses completely destroyed.”
South of Bilawi, where Etah arrived on Tuesday, the seaward Miskito community of Wawa Bar was devastated. The army had evacuated the community before the Etah hit, but the residents it received on Wednesday were worrisome. Wind-twisted trees, chopped balconies and some structures damaged beyond recognition were seated within the sea view.
“An unknown resident told a local television station,” There is nothing here. “Vava Bar is now the Miskito community where destruction reigns.”
Inland cirrus was flooded and the Prinzapolka River had risen more than 10 feet (3.7 m) and threatened its communities. “We are looking at Prinzapolka because there may be an overflow risk,” Murillo said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Murillo said the government was preparing a damage report that would be used for international assistance.
Nicaragua’s Meteorological Director Marcio Bac said the storm was saturating due to heavy rains on the north and Pacific coast of the country. He compared it to Hurricane Joan in 1988.
Lt. Caesar Malaspin of the Bonanza Fire Department said two gold miners were killed in a landslide Tuesday in Bonanza, which is 100 miles (160 kilometers) west.
In the northern province of Jinotega, communities were already flooded. According to local radio, floodwaters took down a suspension bridge over the Wamballan River and about 30 people were evacuated from Vavilli on Wednesday morning.
Northern Nicaragua is home to most of the country’s coffee production, an important export. Lila Sevilla, chairwoman of the National Alliance of Nicaraguan Coffee Growers, said they were concerned with landslides that could affect the coffee plants and block roads needed to bring the crop to market.
“It is still early to evaluate the impact of rain, but we can expect damage to the road network in northern cities,” Sevilla said. He said that the harvest had not yet started, but the extended rains could cause the coffee to mature quickly and affect its quality.
In the Pacific, tropical storm odleys continued to walk in the open sea and there was no danger on the ground.
Associated Press writer Christopher Sharman in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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