'Worst storm in decades': Central America reels from calamitous floods and landslides

TEGUCIGALPA/GUATEMALA CITY, Nov 6 (Reuters) - The remains of Hurricane Eta dumped more torrential rain across large parts of Central America early on Friday after days of devastating floods and landslides that killed dozens of people.

Eta wrought chaos after plowing into Nicaragua on Tuesday with 150 miles-per-hour (241 kph) winds and unleashing torrents of rain on isolated and impoverished regions of Honduras and Guatemala.

Most people died in remote mountainous regions where entire houses were buried in landslides, authorities said.

Rescue operations have been slowed by destroyed roads and bridges, forcing authorities to draft in the military and use helicopters and speedboats to rescue people stranded on top of their houses.

“This is the worst storm Honduras has seen in decades. The damage will undoubtedly be significant,” said Mark Connolly, UNICEF Representative in Honduras, who estimated about 1.5 million children there will be impacted by Eta.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said on Thursday more than 50 people had died - though the country’s disaster authority, CONRED, said there had only been eight confirmed deaths, and the rest of the 50 were counted as missing.

Giammattei said mudslides around a couple of small towns swallowed about a couple of dozen homes.

“Right now, we’re trying to get there on foot because there’s no other way,” Giammattei said.

A further eight people were killed in Honduras, where Max Gonzalez, the minister of the National Risk Management System (SINAGER), said about 4,000 people had been rescued but many others remained trapped on their roofs.

“We have been without food for two days... waiting to be evacuated,” William Santos, sheltering on top of a banana packing plant with about 300 people in northern Honduras, told Reuters.

One of the fiercest storms to hit Central America in years, Eta struck Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday before weakening to a tropical depression as it moved inland and into neighboring Honduras.

Across swathes of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica, high winds and heavy rain have damaged hundreds, if not thousands, of homes, forcing people to take cover in shelters.

Two artisanal miners were killed in Nicaragua while in southern Costa Rica, a landslide killed two people in a house, a Costa Rican woman and an American man, officials said.

Near the Costa Rican border in Panama’s Chiriqui province, five people, including three children, died in flooding, authorities said.

On Friday morning, the eye of the storm was on the edge of Belize’s coast and heading out to the Caribbean Sea, charting a course to Cuba and Florida this weekend, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

But remnants of Eta will continue to batter portions of Central America with “catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding”, NHC said.

Flash flooding and river overflows were also possible across Jamaica, southeast Mexico, the Cayman Islands and western Cuba, NHC added. (Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Andrew Heavens)