Flooding killed three people and left more than 12 others missing in Honduras, officials said Saturday, as Tropical Storm Gamma strengthened slightly and pushed toward Belize and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Forecasters said Gamma, the 24th named storm of an already record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, was likely to skirt Belize and the Yucatan this weekend before heading toward Cuba's western tip and then reaching southern Florida by Monday afternoon.
Rains that pounded much of Central America were hardest in Honduras, where flash floods slowed the flow of emergency aid, said Luis Gomez, the country's emergency coordinator.
He said at least five major rivers overflowed their banks near the country's Caribbean coast, flooding villages, towns and low-lying sections of
cities. Officials helped more than 5,000 people get to higher ground and planned to evacuate more.
Gomez said at least three Hondurans had died and 13 more were missing, but he had no details on individual cases.
Heavy rains were also falling in much of Mexico's Quintana Roo state, which includes the Cancun and Playa del Carmen beach resorts. Officials
evacuated Banco Chinchorro, a reef popular with scuba divers off the state's coast, and set up shelters for those in low-lying areas further inland.
Gamma is on a path similar to that of last month's Hurricane Wilma, which battered Cancun and Playa del Carmen and left thousands of tourists stranded for days - although Gamma was expected to turn east without hitting the resorts.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 45 miles per hour (75 kph) and was expected to strengthen only slightly, according to the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
It was located about 220 miles (335 kilometers) east of Belize City and was expected to pick up speed as it drifted northward toward Mexico.
Forecasters said Gamma could dump up to 10 inches (25 centimetres) of rain on some areas.
Gamma extended the Atlantic's record-breaking storm season. The previous record of 21 named storms had stood since 1933.
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