Tropical storm Gamma kills six in Honduras

Tropical Storm Gamma deluged the Caribbean coast of Central America on Saturday, killing at least six people—three in flooding in Honduras and three in the crash of a small plane belonging to a Belize lodge owned by United States filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

Gamma, the 24th named storm of an already record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, was drifting erratically off the coast of northern Honduras and was not likely to strengthen into a hurricane, according to the US National Hurricane Centre.

With maximum sustained winds of 75kph, the storm’s forecast path shifted late on Saturday to the northeast, indicating that Gamma’s centre could move over eastern Cuba and the Bahamas in the coming days.

The southern half of Cuba and the Cayman Islands are expected to received 8-15cm of rain.

On Saturday night, Gamma was moving at 10kph and was located about 400km east of the Belizean capital, Belize City. Gamma’s shift away from land prompted

Belize’s government to discontinue a tropical storm warning for the coast. Mexico also called off Gamma-related warnings for the Yucatan Peninsula.

“We don’t expect much strengthening over the next 24 hours,” National Hurricane Centre forecaster Jennifer Pralgo said on Saturday evening.
“But right now it’s still affecting Central America because it’s moving so slowly.”

Hardest-hit was Honduras, where flash floods slowed the flow of emergency aid, said Luis Gomez, the country’s emergency coordinator.

“People who are cut off or affected by the rains should ration water and food on their own because we won’t get to them until weather conditions improve,” Gomez said.

He said at least three Hondurans had died and 13 more were missing, but he had no details on individual cases.

Gomez said five major rivers overflowed their banks, washing out bridges and highways and sparking flooding. Officials evacuated more than 5 000 people.

Nelly Soliman, the mayor of El Progreso, 160km north of Tegucigalpa, said all major sections of that city had been flooded.

Heavy winds and rains were also pounding the Bay Islands, off the Honduran coast, Hugo Arevalo, coordinator of a national disaster-response committee, said at a news conference.

“The damage is terrible along all the northern coast of the country,” he said. “Many of our countrymen are suffering but we are doing all we can to bring them food, medicine and clothing.”

In Belize, search teams were blaming bad weather associated with Gamma for the crash of a private plane belonging to an exclusive lodge owned by US filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. A Belizean pilot and two unidentified passengers were killed, said G Michael Reid, a police spokesperson.

A representative for the Coppola, Kathleen Talbert, said the crash killed Belizean pilot Rene Ram and two guests. Talbert declined to release the names of the guests.

Reid said he could not release further details about the three victims, adding that heavy cloud cover had made it difficult for a rescue helicopter to reach the crash site.

Wreckage from the plane was discovered on the 2 900ha property of the Hidden Valley Inn in the Mountain Pine Ridge area, a manager for that resort said. He refused to provide further details.

The aircraft disappeared on Friday, last making radio contact with air controllers 10 minutes into its 35-minute flight to the Blancaneux Lodge near the western border with Guatemala.

Rescuers were still searching for five Belizean fishermen from the northern fishing village of Sarteneja near the Mexican border who disappeared on Friday. Their six metre vessel was capsized by a large wave, police said.

Heavy rains were also falling in parts of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, which includes the Cancun and Playa del Carmen beach resorts. Officials evacuated Banco Chinchorro, a reef popular with scuba divers off the state’s coast, and set up shelters for those in low-lying areas further inland.

In Costa Rica, heavy rains prompted authorities to evacuate 600 people, said Reynaldo Carballo, a government spokesperson.

Gamma extended the Atlantic’s record-breaking storm season. The previous record of 21 named storms had stood since 1933. - Sapa-AP

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