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Tropical Storm Gamma kills six in Central America

Sunday, November 20, 2005

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Tropical Storm Gamma deluged the coast of Central America on Saturday, killing at least six people -- three in flooding in Honduras and three in the crash of a small plane belonging to a Belize lodge owned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

Forecasters said Gamma, the 24th named storm of an already record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, was likely to stay out to sea as it moved past Belize and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The storm had top sustained winds near 45 mph and was expected to stay below hurricane strength of 74 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

Gamma was likely to speed up and turn northeast today, sending it across the northeastern Caribbean and toward western Cuba, forecasters said. On that path, Gamma would cross Cuba but skirt the Florida Keys and the Florida mainland on Monday.

Earlier forecasts showed Gamma following a course similar to the one taken by Hurricane Wilma, which barreled across south Florida on Oct. 24, causing 21 deaths, damaging homes and triggering power outages.

"We're out of the cone of danger," said Jennifer Pralgo, a hurricane center meteorologist. She warned that the storm could again change paths and turn toward Florida, but forecasters did not expect a substantial change in strength in the next day.

At 4 p.m. EST, the storm was about 215 miles east-southeast of Belize City and about 45 miles northeast of Limon, Honduras.

Gamma brought torrential rains to much of Central America, especially Honduras, where flash floods slowed the flow of emergency aid, said Luis Gomez, the country's emergency coordinator.

"People who are cut off or affected by the rains should ration water and food on their own because we won't get to them until weather conditions improve," Gomez said.

He said at least three Hondurans had died and 13 more were missing, but had no further details.

Gomez said five major rivers overflowed their banks, washing out bridges and highways. Officials evacuated more than 5,000 people, some of those from areas in San Pedro Sula, the country's second-largest city.

Heavy winds and rains were also pounding the Bay Islands, off the Honduran coast, said Hugo Arevalo, coordinator of a national disaster-response committee.

"The damage is terrible along all the northern coast of the country," he said. "Many of our countrymen are suffering, but we are doing all we can to bring them food, medicine and clothing."

In Belize, south of Mexico, search teams were blaming bad weather associated with Gamma for the crash of a private plane from the Hidden Valley Inn, an exclusive lodge owned by Coppola. A Belizean pilot and two passengers were killed, said G. Michael Reid, a police spokesman. He declined to offer further details about those killed.

Rescuers were still searching for five Belizean fishermen from the northern fishing village of Sarteneja near the Mexican border who disappeared on Friday when their vessel capsized.

Gamma extended the Atlantic's record-breaking storm season. The previous record of 21 named storms had stood since 1933.


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