Reported death tolls rose dramatically Thursday as Central America begins to assess the catastrophic damage wrought by the slow-moving storm Eta. At least 50 people are dead in Guatemala alone, with an additional 13 dead in Honduras and two more in Nicaragua. Those totals are expected to rise. At least 25 were killed by one landslide in San Cristobal Verapaz, Guatemala when a landslide buried multiple homes, and two other landslides in Huehuetenango killed at least 12 more. Overwhelming flooding also spread across Honduras — emergency management officials said 41 communities have been cut off by washed-out roads. “We rescued my brothers, all the family from a balcony, a three-story building,” Miguel Angel Beltran of San Pedro Sula told the AP.
Maite Matheu, Honduras country director CARE International, told the AP families across the Sula valley, the country’s most agriculturally productive region, were stranded on their roofs hoping to be rescued but that the government’s capacity was overwhelmed. While immediate rescue and assistance is critical, she said, “The impact on crops is going to be enormous” and would only increase pressure on local populations to migrate. Climate change is increasing extreme rainfall and may be linked to storms moving more slowly — both leading to increased damage and rainfall as the storms stall over a given area for longer periods of time, as this one did. Eta is expected to strengthen into a tropical storm today, hit Cuba and the Cayman Islands over the weekend, and eventually head toward southern Florida early next week. (AP, CNN, Yale Climate Connections, CBS; Climate Signals background: Hurricanes, 2020 Atlantic hurricane season)