Tropical Storm Gamma continues to weaken

Tropical Storm Gamma weakened into a tropical depression and was losing more strength as it drifted off the coast of Honduras on Sunday night after killing 11 people in this country and three in nearby Belize.

Gamma, the 24th named storm of an already record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, was expected to bring rain to northern Honduras and central Cuba as it becomes less organised and dissipates, according to the United States National Hurricane Centre in Miami.

Maximum sustained winds decreased to 48kph—well below the threshold for a tropical storm. Its centre was located about 152km north of Limon and it was meandering north but was expected to fade away soon.

Gamma earlier had 75kph winds and torrential downpours when it battered much of the northern Honduran coast throughout the weekend. Late on Sunday, officials raised the death toll to 11, with four people injured and 15 more missing.

The latest victims of the weather were identified as a 48-year-old man and an 8-year-old boy who both died in Batalla, 400km northeast of the capital, Tegucigalpa, in Gracias a Dios province.

The government said it damaged 264 homes and destroyed 48 others, while forcing 11 307 people to evacuate.
Floods washed away three bridges and highways and also wiped out six government buildings.

“The losses are high, and they pain and sadden us, but the worst could come when we learn the full magnitude of the tragedy,” said Hugo Arevalo, national disaster response coordinator.

Helicopters from a US military base joined Honduran aircraft in ferrying aid to hard-hit areas, but authorities cautioned that dozens of coastal communities remained cut off.

Among them were towns elsewhere in the Gracias a Dios region, near the Nicaraguan border.

“We haven’t gotten any humanitarian aid to them because the weather conditions won’t let military helicopters land,” Arevalo said, adding that waters from the swollen Tinto and Negro rivers have divided the town of Palacios in Gracias a Dios.

A mudslide swept down on a home in Puerto Cortes, Honduras’ main Caribbean port, killing Franklin Maradiaga (20) his 21-year-old wife Jessenia Aguilar, their one-year-old son Anderson and two-year-old daughter Janeth.

Five people were also killed in the northern town of El Progreso, where Mayor Nelly Soliman said flooding was extensive.

President Ricardo Maduro said that Spain, Japan, Britain, Colombia and the United States had pledged to send aid.

“I want to be clear,” he said, “there is money available and we won’t skimp on aid for our countrymen.”

Heavy winds and rains also pounded the Bay Islands, off the Honduran coast.

In Belize, search teams blamed bad weather associated with Gamma for the crash of a private plane belonging to Blancaneaux Lodge, an exclusive jungle resort owned by US filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

The crash killed Belizean pilot Rene Ram and two guests, said Kathleen Talbert, a representative for Coppola. The guests’ bodies were transferred to Belize City, the nation’s capital, and identified simply as US citizens, the Belizean military said.

Civil aviation authorities were trying to determine the cause of the crash—which saw the plane fall into a ravine near another exclusive ranch in Cayo province—but said heavy winds and rains from Gamma were a factor.

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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