19/11/2005 20:54 - (SA)

Honduras - Flooding killed three people and left more than a dozen others missing in Honduras, officials said on 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 storm-weary southern Florida by Monday afternoon.

Tropical storm warnings were posted for the coasts of northern Belize and the southern Yucatan Peninsula, as well as Honduras' Bay Islands.

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.

"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 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.

Gamma is on a path similar to that of last month's Hurricane Wilma, which battered Mexico's Cancun and Playa del Carmen and left thousands of tourists stranded for days - although Gamma was expected to turn east without hitting those beach resorts.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 75kph and was expected to strengthen only slightly, according to the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami.

Forecasters said Gamma could dump up to 25 centimetres of rain on some areas.

In Belize, south of Mexico, a private plane belonging to an exclusive lodge owned by US filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola disappeared on Friday shortly after taking off from Belize international airport.

The plane, which carried a Belizean pilot and two unidentified passengers, last made radio contact with air controllers 10 minutes into its 35-minute flight to the Blancaneux Lodge near the western border with Guatemala.

Rescuers also sought five Belizean fishermen from the northern fishing village of Sarteneja near the Mexican border. Their six-metre vessel was capsized by a large wave, police said.

Farther south, in Costa Rica, heavy rains prompted authorities to evacuate 600 people, said Reynaldo Carballo, a government spokesperson.

Gamma extended the Atlantic's record-breaking storm season. The previous record of 21 named storms had stood since 1933.

source: http://www.news24.com/News24/World/N...837292,00.html