Tropical Storm Gamma deluged the Caribbean coast of Central America and killed at least six people, but it appeared to be dying out Sunday and forecasters said it could become a tropical depression within the next 24 hours.
Gamma, the 24th named storm of an already record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, was drifting erratically off the coast of northern Honduras, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
"Gamma's not looking very healthy right now," said Stacy Stewart, a hurricane specialist at the center. "It's barely a tropical storm and it could become a tropical depression within the next 24 hours."
Maximum sustained winds decreased to 40 mph (65 kph) _ just above the threshold of 39 mph (62 kph) to be considered a tropical storm. Gamma's forecast path over the next three days shifted eastward, indicating the storm's center could move south of Jamaica by Wednesday.
But Stewart said it may not even be a tropical cyclone by that time.
The southern half of Cuba and the Cayman Islands are expected to received 3-6 inches (8-15 centimeters) of rain.
At 4 a.m. EST (0900 GMT) Sunday, the storm was about 220 miles (350 kilometers) east-southeast of Belize City and about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north-northeast of Limon, Honduras. It was moving erratically to the north near 2 mph (4 kph).
Hardest-hit was 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 died in flooding Saturday and 13 more were missing, but he had no details on individual cases.
Gomez said five major rivers overflowed their banks, washing out bridges and highways and sparking flooding. Officials evacuated more than 5,000 people.
Nelly Soliman, the mayor of El Progreso, 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Tegucigalpa, said all major sections of that city had been flooded.
Heavy winds and rains also pounded the Bay Islands, off the Honduran coast, Hugo Arevalo, coordinator of a national disaster-response committee, said at a news conference. A tropical storm warning remained in effect for the islands, but it could be discontinued later Sunday, the U.S. hurricane center said.
"The damage is terrible along all the northern coast of the country," Arevalo said. "Many of our countrymen are suffering but we are doing all we can to bring them food, medicine and clothing."
In Belize, search teams blamed bad weather associated with Gamma for the crash of a private plane belonging to an exclusive lodge owned by U.S. filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. A Belizean pilot and two unidentified passengers were killed, police spokesman G. Michael Reid said.
The crash killed Belizean pilot Rene Ram and two guests, said Kathleen Talbert, a representative for Coppola. Talbert declined to release the names of the guests.
Heavy cloud cover made it difficult for a rescue helicopter to reach the crash site, Reid said.
Wreckage from the plane was discovered on the 7,200-acre (2,900-hectare) property of the Hidden Valley Inn in the Mountain Pine Ridge area, a resort manager said.
The aircraft disappeared Friday, last making radio contact with air controllers 10 minutes into its 35-minute flight to the Blancaneux Lodge near the western border with Guatemala.
Rescuers were still searching for five Belizean fishermen from the northern fishing village of Sarteneja near the Mexican border who disappeared Friday. Their 20-foot (6-meter) vessel was capsized by a large wave, police said.
Gamma extended the Atlantic's record-breaking storm season. The previous record of 21 named storms had stood since 1933, AP reported. V.A.
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