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Hurricane Eta weakens to a tropical storm as it sets course toward US Gulf Coast after slamming Nicaragua

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Tropical Storm Eta still has days of devastation in store for Central America, and after lingering there the storm is set to move on to the US coast.

Reports of Eta's catastrophic damage from rains, winds and flooding in Nicaragua and Honduras have begun to roll in, but it could be days until residents there are able to survey the totality of the impact.

The slow-moving storm made landfall along the coast of Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane Tuesday afternoon. Eta had maximum sustained winds near 140 mph at landfall, but by Wednesday morning had dropped to tropical storm status with 70 mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Though it has weakened, the storm will linger over the region for the coming days, bringing "catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding, river flooding and mudslides," according to the NHC.

Later this week, the storm is expected to reemerge over the Caribbean Sea and possibly move over Cuba by Sunday. That means that by the end of the weekend, Eta could threaten Southeast US -- particularly Florida, which is in the storm's forecast cone.

Eta is expected to restrengthen when it hits water once again, but there is still uncertainty about the magnitude of intensity it will reach, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.

Flooding on the ground and roofs torn off

The storm pulled roofs off houses, took down trees and power lines and is causing flooding in Puerto Cabezas, a city in one of Nicaragua's poorest regions, Reuters reported, citing Guillermo Gonzalez, the chief of the nation's disaster management agency.

"We're really afraid. There are fallen poles, there's flooding, roofs torn off," said Puerto Cabezas resident Carmen Enriquez, according to Reuters. A local priest told the news agency earlier that the city was without power and government shelters were at capacity.

To the north, homes were also being flooded in Lancetilla, Honduras, amid heavy rains. Rivers were overflowing, cities and towns were flooding, and landslides were covering roads in Honduras, Reuters reported.

Dangerous storm surge of up to 21 feet above normal tide also could crash onshore in parts of Nicaragua, Central America's poorest nation, the NHC said. A hurricane warning was in effect for a roughly 150-mile stretch of Nicaraguan coastline, from the Honduras/Nicaragua border south to Sandy Bay Sirpi on east-central

Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. Honduras is no longer under a hurricane warning, but remains under a tropical storm warning, the NHC said.

Almost half a million children are among the more than 1.2 million people who could be affected by the storm, according to UNICEF, which put emergency supplies in place and developed a plan to respond to the needs of children and families, according to a statement from the agency.

Torrential rain could lead to life-threatening conditions

The storm could deliver life-threatening conditions to Nicaragua and other Central American nations for days, including more than 3 feet of rain in isolated parts of Nicaragua and Honduras through this week, the NHC said.

"This rainfall will lead to catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain of Central America," the NHC said.

Rain forecasts through Sunday morning, according to the NHC:

• Much of Nicaragua and Honduras: Generally, 15-25 inches, with isolated amounts up to 40 inches.

• Eastern Guatemala and Belize: Generally, 10-20 inches, with isolated amounts up to 25 inches.

• Parts of Panama and Costa Rica: Generally, 10-15 inches, with isolated amounts up to 25 inches.

• El Salvador and southeastern Mexico: Generally, 5-10 inches, with isolated amounts up to 15 inches.

• Jamaica, southern Haiti, and the Cayman Islands: Generally, 3-5 additional inches, with isolated storm totals over 15 inches.

As the 28th named storm in the Atlantic this season, it ties the record for the number of named storms in a single season set back in 2005.

 

This article was originally published on CNN.com

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