November 20, 2005

Gamma weakens, kills 14 in Central America

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) - U.S. military helicopters
began flying aid to survivors in central America on Sunday as
Gamma, the 24th major storm in a record-breaking hurricane
season, weakened after killing 14 people.

Gamma slowed to a tropical depression and meandered off the
Honduran coast with maximum sustained winds of 35 miles per
hour. It was expected to dissipate by early Monday, the U.S.
National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

The storm swiped Central America on Saturday and killed at
least 14 people, three in a plane crash on its way to a luxury
jungle lodge owned by film director Francis Ford Coppola.

In Honduras, 11 people died, seven in raging river waters
and four in mudslides. Another 13 people were missing and about
12,000 evacuees remained in shelters.

As rainfall eased, U.S. Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters
began carrying 140 tonnes of food and other supplies to 50,000
victims in indigenous communities on the Caribbean coast, said
Marlon Zelaya of the national disaster agency Copeco.

Rescue teams used boats and helicopters to reach cut off
residents as bridges were damaged or destroyed, leaving several
cities and towns isolated.

"It is very difficult. There is still flooding, there are
hundreds, possibly thousands of people still cut off and people
are desperate because we can't get there with help," said Hugo
Arevalo, a deputy director at Copeco.

In the northern city of El Progreso, residents stayed in
temporary roadside huts because much of the city remained under
water. The village of Palacios on the Atlantic coast was split
in two by a sea surge.

The brunt of the storm spared Mexico's Yucatan peninsula,
which is recovering from a battering by Hurricane Wilma three
weeks ago. But about 100 people in a fishing village were
evacuated due to heavy rain.

Forecasters also said Gamma would not directly hit southern
Florida, where Wilma also wreaked havoc.

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