Families waded through the flooded streets of the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, while cars sat almost submerged in parts of the central Guatemalan city of San Pedro Carcha, television footage and images posted on social media showed.

People board a boat to get to their flooded house during the passage of Storm Eta, in Pimienta, Honduras, November 5, 2020.
People board a boat to get to their flooded house during the passage of Storm Eta, in Pimienta, Honduras, November 5, 2020. (Reuters)

Storm Eta has unleashed torrential rains and catastrophic flooding in Central America, killing more than 50 people and turning streets into waist-high water channels, though 60 fishermen who had been missing off Honduras made it back to shore.

"In the morning we had four dead, now the figure is over 50 dead," Guatemala's President Alejandro Giammattei said on Thursday at an impromptu press conference.

Families waded through the flooded streets of the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, while cars sat almost submerged in parts of the central Guatemalan city of San Pedro Carcha, television footage and images posted on social media showed.

"The situation is serious, it's shocking and needs to be dealt with professionally, fast," Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez told HCH television, pointing to reports of people stranded or stuck on roofs of flooded homes.

Damage and destruction had spread across the "vast majority" of Honduras and speedboats and helicopters would be sent to rescue people in inaccessible areas, Hernandez said.

One of the fiercest storms to hit Central America in years, Eta struck Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday with winds of 150 miles per hour (241 kph) before weakening as it moved inland and into neighbouring Honduras.

READ MORE: Hurricane Eta lashes Nicaragua as Category 4 storm

People push a car through a flooded street during the passage of Storm Eta, in La Lima, Honduras, November 5, 2020.
People push a car through a flooded street during the passage of Storm Eta, in La Lima, Honduras, November 5, 2020. (Reuters)

'Our friends are alive'

By Thursday, authorities confirmed at least five deaths in Guatemala and seven in Honduras. Media in Nicaragua also reported two miners had died in a mudslide.

In southern Costa Rica, a landslide on a house killed two residents, a Costa Rican woman and an American man, officials said. A man and a woman also died in flooding in Panama's Chiriqui province, near the Costa Rica border, authorities said.

There was better news in Honduras, where the 60 fishermen who went missing on Tuesday returned after taking shelter on cays until they were reached by boats bringing food and fuel, said community leader Robin Morales.

Calling their escape a "miracle," Morales said a man among them presumed dead from a heart attack also made it back.

"Our friends are alive, thank God," he said.

Across swathes of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica, high winds and heavy rain have damaged homes, roads and bridges, forcing thousands to take cover in shelters.

On Thursday, Eta was a tropical depression moving north-west through Honduras toward the Caribbean, at 9 miles per hour (14 kph), the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Heavy rains continued. Its maximum winds had fallen to 30 mph (48 kph).

One unidentified woman broadcast on Honduran television made a desperate plea for help in a neighbourhood of La Lima, a municipality on the southeastern flank of San Pedro Sula.

"I've got five children on the roof of my house and nobody's helping me to get them down," she said.

Eta is forecast to return to sea and regain momentum as a tropical storm, reaching Cuba and southern Florida in the coming days, the NHC said.

READ MORE: Flooding feared as Hurricane Eta heads to Central America

A general view shows the Chamelecon river during the passage of Storm Eta, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, November 5, 2020.
A general view shows the Chamelecon river during the passage of Storm Eta, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, November 5, 2020. (Reuters)

Widespread flooding 

In the north of the country, many people were forced to take refuge on the roofs of their houses as floodwaters rose, relief agencies said.

Three thousand people had already been evacuated from the path of the storm on Wednesday, COPECO said.

Two children, an eight-year-old and a toddler of 11 months, died when a mudslide swept their home away in the northwestern department of Santa Barbara.

"A house was buried, leaving as a result two minors dead," police said in a statement.

Two other children were killed in similar circumstances in the country's south, authorities reported on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a 71-year-old American and his 51-year-old Costa Rican wife died when a landslide buried their home in the southern canton of Coto Brus, on the border with Panama. Their bodies were recovered by emergency workers.

The four people killed in Guatemala were swept away in mudslides as rain-saturated hillsides gave way.

They included two children, aged two and 11, who were killed when their home was swept away in the village of Los Triagles, in the country's northern Quiche department, according to David de Leon of the Disaster Reduction Coordinating Committee, CONRED.

Another person died in a village in the same region, where two other people are reported missing.

The fourth victim died in Chinaulta, just north of Guatemala City.

Landslides swept away roads and at least five bridges, and the highway linking the capital Tegucigalpa with second city San Pedro Sula was cut off by a mudslide, it said.

Authorities evacuated around 700 prisoners in the city of El Progreso, north of the capital, after the site was swamped by floodwaters.

In neighbouring La Lima, hundreds of families fled their homes and took refuge in makeshift plastic and sheet metal shelters erected along a highway median.

READ MORE: Tropical Storm Eta ties record, expected to become hurricane

Lineworkers repair a power line damaged by a tree that fell from strong winds caused by tropical storm Eta in San Salvador, El Salvador, November 4, 2020.
Lineworkers repair a power line damaged by a tree that fell from strong winds caused by tropical storm Eta in San Salvador, El Salvador, November 4, 2020. (Reuters)

Flash flood warning

Even as Eta eased to a tropical depression, the US National Hurricane Center continued to warn of "life-threatening flash flooding" over portions of Central America.

Eta slammed ashore at the northern Nicaraguan coastal town of Bilwi, also known as Puerto Cabezas, on Tuesday packing winds of 130 miles (210 kilometres per) per hour that knocked over walls, uprooted trees, downed power lines and tore roofs off dwellings.

It left impoverished indigenous communities along Nicaragua's northern coast underwater, and swept away several coastal villages.

The hurricane is likely to have a devastating effect on the communities' main livelihoods of fishing and agriculture, said the World Food Programme (WFP), which has sent 80 tons of food aid to the region.

As the surface layer of oceans warms due to climate change, hurricanes are becoming more powerful and carrying more water, posing an increasing threat to the world's coastal communities, scientists say.

Storm surges amplified by rising seas can be especially devastating.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies