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Eta Moves Over Caribbean, Leaving Devastation in Its Wake

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SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — As the remnants of Hurricane Eta moved back over Caribbean waters, governments in Central America worked to tally the displaced and dead, and recover bodies from landslides and flooding that claimed dozens of lives from Guatemala to Panama.

It will be days before the true toll of Eta is known. Its torrential rains battered economies already strangled by the COVID-19 pandemic, took all from those who had little and laid bare the shortcomings of governments unable to aid their citizens.

In Guatemala, an army brigade reached a massive landslide Friday morning in the central mountains where an estimated 150 homes were buried Thursday. It did not immediately recover any bodies, but said that more than 100 people were believed to be missing.

In a news conference, President Alejandro Giammattei said he believed there were at least 100 dead there in the area, San Cristobal Verapaz, but noted the figure was unconfirmed.

“The panorama is complicated in that area,” he said, noting that rescuers were struggling to access the site.

A week of torrential rain from the storm has spoiled crops, washed away bridges and flooded homes across Central America. Its slow, meandering path north through Honduras pushed rivers over their banks and into neighborhoods where families were forced onto rooftops to wait for rescue.

Francisco Argeñal, chief meteorologist at the Center for Atmospheric, Oceanographic and Seismic Studies, said as much as 8 inches of rain had fallen in just two days in some areas.

The death toll in Honduras rose to at least 21 people on Friday.

“In the coming hours, we are going to start to see, to our regret, Dante-esque scenes of people found dead” as floodwaters recede, said Marvin Aparicio, an official with the Honduran emergency management agency.

The forecast shows Eta strengthening to a tropical storm late Friday before nearing the Cayman Islands Saturday and crossing Cuba Sunday. From there it could reach Florida or eventually head toward the U.S. Gulf Coast, though the long-term path remained uncertain.

“Whatever comes out is going to linger a while,” said Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University. “I’m not convinced we’re done with Eta.”

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