Hurricane Eta weakened to a tropical storm Wednesday as it pushed into Honduras, leaving behind a trail of destruction in Nicaragua where it made landfall the day before as a Category Four hurricane.
The US National Hurricane Center said Wednesday that Eta had weakened to a tropical depression, but continued to warn of "life-threatening flash flooding" over portions of Central America.
Honduras' emergency response commission COPECO said 3,000 people had been evacuated from their homes in the path of the storm.
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.
COPECO warned people living near river banks to evacuate.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez addressed the nation on television, calling for solidarity to overcome the challenges caused by the destruction.
Authorities evacuated around 700 prisoners in the city of El Progreso, north of the capital, after the site was swamped by rainwater.
In neighboring La Lima, hundreds of families fled their homes and took refuge in makeshift plastic and sheetmetal shelters erected along a highway median.
The giant storm left impoverished indigenous communities along Nicaragua's northern coast underwater, and several coastal villages completely swept away.
- 'Villages washed away' -
"The information we have is that the community of Wawa no longer exists, the sea has completely entered the community, and neither does Karata, that is very beaten up, as is Halouver," Kevin Gonzalez, a volunteer with the relief corps in the area, told AFP.
Bilwi, also known as Puerto Cabezas and the biggest city on the northern coast, "has been badly affected, there are surrounding neighborhoods and bridges that are flooded, many houses are without roofs," said Gonzalez.
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.
Giovany Nelson, 34, said his family was "locked in a room listening to the wind destroying the roof."
Two Nicaraguans died after they were buried in a landslide while working in a mine in the municipality of Bonanza, the director of the local Red Cross, Auner Garcia, told Channel 10 television.
Authorities in Honduras said a child died in a collapsed house there, bringing the death toll in the region to three so far.
The storm is forecast to continue moving inland over northern Nicaragua and central Honduras on Thursday.
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.
The government in Guatemala issued a flood warning in the northern and eastern regions bordering Honduras.
President Alejandro Giammattei said in a televised address that at least two major rivers were in danger of overflowing their banks.
In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele said on national radio and television that more than 100,000 people from the government, relief organizations, the police and army were ready to help the population during and after the hurricane.