Eta, which weakened Wednesday evening to a tropical depression, claimed at least one life and still has days of devastation in store for Central America, before it is set to head toward the US coast.
Reports of Eta’s catastrophic damage from rains, winds and flooding in Nicaragua and Honduras have begun to roll in, but it could be days until residents there are able to survey the totality of the impact.
At least one death was reported and more than 2,000 people were evacuated in Honduras because of Eta, the country’s Permanent Contingency Commission said on Wednesday. The storm destroyed five bridges,14 roads and 339 homes, the commission reported.
The slow-moving storm made landfall along the coast of Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane Tuesday afternoon. Eta had maximum sustained winds near 140 mph at landfall, but by Wednesday evening had dropped to tropical depression status with 35 mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Though weakened, the storm is expected to linger over the region for the coming days, bringing “catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides” over parts of Central America, according to the NHC.
The storm is creeping along at about 7 mph.
Later this week, the storm is expected to reemerge over the Caribbean Sea and possibly move over Cuba by Sunday. That means that by Monday morning, Eta could threaten the Southeastern US – particularly Florida, which is in the storm’s forecast cone.
Eta is expected to restrengthen when it hits water once again, but there is still uncertainty about the magnitude of intensity it will reach, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.
Flooding on the ground and roofs torn off
The storm pulled roofs off houses, took down trees and power lines and is causing flooding in Puerto Cabezas, a city in one of Nicaragua’s poorest regions, Reuters reported, citing Guillermo Gonzalez, the chief of the nation’s disaster management agency.
“We’re really afraid. There are fallen poles, there’s flooding, roofs torn off,” said Puerto Cabezas resident Carmen Enriquez, according to Reuters.
A local priest told the news agency earlier that the city was without power and government shelters were at capacity.
To the north, homes were also being flooded in Lancetilla, Honduras, amid heavy rains. Rivers were overflowing, cities and towns were flooding, and landslides were covering roads in Honduras, Reuters reported.
Dangerous storm surge of up to 21 feet above normal tide also could crash onshore in parts of Nicaragua, Central America’s poorest nation, the NHC said.
A hurricane warning was in effect for a roughly 150-mile stretch of Nicaraguan coastline, from the Honduras/Nicaragua border south to Sandy Bay Sirpi on east-central Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.
Almost half a million children are among the more than 1.2 million people who could be affected by the storm, according to UNICEF, which put emergency supplies in place and developed a plan to respond to the needs of children and families, according to a statement from the agency.
Torrential rain could lead to life-threatening conditions
The storm could deliver life-threatening conditions to Nicaragua and other Central American nations for days, including more than 3 feet of rain in isolated parts of Nicaragua and Honduras through this week, the NHC said.
“This rainfall will lead to catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain of Central America,” the NHC said.
Rain forecasts through Sunday morning, according to the NHC:
• Parts of Honduras, Guatemala and Belize: Generally, 15-30 inches, with isolated amounts up to 40 inches in eastern Honduras.
• Portions of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica: Generally, an additional 15-20 inches, with isolated amounts up to 40 inches.
• Parts of Panama and Costa Rica: Generally, 10-15 inches, with isolated amounts up to 25 inches.
• Southeastern Mexico: Generally, 5-15 inches, with isolated amounts up to 20 inches.
• Jamaica: Generally, 3-5 additional inches, with isolated storm totals over 15 inches.
• Cayman Islands into western Cuba: Generally, 10-25 inches, with isolated totals of 30 inches.
As the 28th named storm in the Atlantic this season, it ties the record, set in 2005, for the number of named storms in a single season.
CNN’s Jason Hanna, Theresa Waldrop, Michael Guy, Taylor Ward and Tyler Mauldin contributed to this report.