November 19, 2005

Tropical Storm Gamma drenches Central America

By Tomas Bravo

EL PROGRESO, Honduras (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Gamma
lashed Central America with heavy rain on Saturday, killing at
least nine people and cutting off part of the Honduran coast as
the 24th major storm in a record Atlantic hurricane season cut
an erratic course toward Cuba.

Slow-moving Gamma was expected to bypass Mexico's Yucatan
peninsula, still recovering from a battering by Hurricane Wilma
three weeks ago, and forecasters revised an earlier prediction
to say that it probably would not directly hit southern
Florida, where Wilma also wreaked havoc.

The storm was expected to reach Cuba on Monday but
forecasters said it probably would not gain strength.

"We expect it to move over central Cuba and then out toward
the Bahamas," said Jennifer Pralgo, a meteorologist with the
U.S. National Hurricane Center.

The storm was expected to dump to 15 inches of rain in Cuba
and lesser amounts in Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize and parts of

Gamma's heavy rains were linked to the deaths of at least
nine people in Honduras and 14 were missing on Saturday,
officials said. Several people disappeared when a rescue boat
overturned in raging river waters.

Honduran officials said more than 5,000 people were
evacuated along the Caribbean coast and authorities estimated
more than 50,000 were cut off as bridges were damaged or
destroyed, leaving several cities and towns isolated.

Engineers were working to erect temporary bridges in heavy

"The damages are terrible on all of the northern coast,"
President Ricardo Maduro told journalists in the northern city
of El Progreso. "There are people on the roofs of their homes
due to flooding."


By 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT), Gamma was located about 45 miles

northeast of Limon, Honduras, and 215 miles east-southeast
of Belize City in Belize, disorganized and drifting slowly and
erratically, the Hurricane Center said.

Maximum sustained winds were 45 mph (75 kph) as the system
pushed northward.

Honduran officials urged communities cut off by the storm
to ration food and water until help arrived.

"The people of various communities are clamoring for help
to be rescued and get food but we can't go because the rainy
conditions prevent us from getting there by sea, by river or
air," said Hugo Arevalo, a deputy director of national disaster
commission Copeco.

About 60 percent of El Progreso, a city of 200,000 people
on a river near the coast, was under water, authorities said.
Rescue workers were taking boats to isolated communities on the
Ulua River to search for stranded residents.

Gamma was named, like its two predecessors, Alpha and Beta,
from the Greek alphabet after the official list of storm names
for 2005 was exhausted.

It first was expected to follow the path of Wilma, which
knocked out electricity for 6.5 million people in south Florida
after coming ashore on the state's lower Gulf coast on October

Wilma was at one point the strongest hurricane observed in
the Atlantic basin in terms of minimum central pressure. It
later battered Cancun, Mexico, for three days.

Earlier in October, Hurricane Stan killed up to 2,000
people in Central America after flash floods and mudslides
washed away whole villages.

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans after slamming
ashore on August 29, killing more then 1,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa,