Fierce cyclonic storm turns squares into lakes in southern Italy

CATANIA, Italy (Reuters) – A powerful cyclonic storm hit the southern Italian island of Sicily on Tuesday causing widespread flooding around the city of Catania, turning streets and squares into rivers and lakes and causing at least two deaths, rescuers said.

A spokesman for the Misericordia group of volunteers, who are helping police and firefighters, said the body of a man was found under a car amid torrential rains sweeping the town of Gravina, north of Catania.

Contacted by Reuters, police confirmed the death without providing details.

On Monday, a 67-year-old man died after his car was hit by rising waters and mud. His wife was still missing.

The rain has inundated some of Catania’s most famous streets and squares, causing a blackout in the city center and flooding shops. Schools have been closed in the city and in a number of nearby towns.

Floods also hit a ward at Catania’s Garibaldi hospital, media reported.

“The emergency situation is widespread and extremely critical and it does not seem to be improving,” a spokesman for the firefighters said.

Italian weather site Ilmeteo.it said parts of Sicily and the adjacent toe of Italy, Calabria, were being pounded by a rare tropical-like cyclone known as a medicane, and the sea was 8 degrees Celsius warmer than the average for this time of year.

The storm was expected to peak between Thursday and Friday, it said.

(Reporting by Antonio Parrinello in Catania and Angelo Amante in Rome; Editing by Nick Macfie)

‘Historic’ New York-area flooding in Ida’s wake leaves at least 14 dead

By Barbara Goldberg and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Flooding killed at least 14 people, swept away cars, submerged subway lines and temporarily grounded flights in New York and New Jersey as the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought torrential rains to the area.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a Thursday news conference there were nine confirmed fatalities in New York caused by what he had described as a “historic weather event.”

Countless rescues were made overnight of motorists and subway riders who became stranded in the flood waters, de Blasio said. “So many lives were saved because of the fast, courageous, response of our first responders,” he said.

Images posted on social media overnight showed water gushing over subway platforms and people wading through knee-deep water in their buildings.

Streets turned to rivers as flooding swept away cars in videos captured by stunned residents.

Four residents of Elizabeth, a city in New Jersey, perished in flooding at Oakwood Plaza, a public housing complex that was “flooded out with eight feet of water,” city spokesperson Kelly Martins told Reuters.

“Sadly, more than a few folks have passed as a result of this,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said without elaborating on the death toll at a briefing in Mullica Hill in the southern part of the state where a tornado had ripped apart several homes.

The hit to the Middle Atlantic region came three days after Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast, devastated southern Louisiana. Reconnaissance flights revealed entire communities destroyed by wind and floods.

Ida’s remnants brought six to eight inches (15 to 20 cm) of rain to a swath of the Northeast from Philadelphia to Connecticut and set an hourly record of 3.15 inches for Manhattan, breaking the previous one that was set less than two weeks ago, the National Weather Service said.

The 7.13 inches of rain that fell in New York City on Wednesday was the city’s fifth highest daily amount, it said.

The number of disasters, such as floods and heat waves, driven by climate change has increased fivefold over the past 50 years, according to a report released earlier this week by The World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency.

One person died in Passaic, New Jersey, due to the flooding and the search continued for others, the city’s mayor, Hector Lora, said in a video posted to Facebook on Thursday.

“We are presently still making efforts to identify and try to locate other individuals that have not been accounted for,” Lora said.

NBC New York reported at least 23 fatalities, including a toddler and said that most “if not all” deaths were flood-related.

The governors of New York and New Jersey, who had declared emergencies in their states on Wednesday, urged residents to stay home as crews worked to clear roadways and restore service to New York City subways and commuter rail lines serving millions of residents.

“Right now my street looks more like a lake,” said Lucinda Mercer, 64, as she peered out her apartment window in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York.

Mercer, who works as a crisis line fundraiser, said flood waters were lapping halfway up the hub caps of parked cars.

Subway service in New York City remained “extremely limited” while there was no service at all on commuter rail lines to the city’s northern suburbs on Thursday morning, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) said. Janno Lieber, the MTA’s acting chair and CEO, told local media it was going to take until later in the day to restore full service.

The Long Island Railroad, which is also run by the MTA, said early on Thursday that services on most of its branches had been restored but commuters should expect systemwide delays of up to 30 minutes.

‘HUMBLED BY MOTHER NATURE’

Michael Wildes, mayor of Englewood, a city in New Jersey located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, said the city’s central business district was under water and some residents had to be evacuated to the library overnight.

“We are being humbled by mother nature in this last year and a half,” Wildes told Reuters by phone.

He said there were no known deaths in Englewood, although police, fire and other emergency responders had extracted several people trapped in their cars.

Mark Haley of Summit, New Jersey, said getting back home after a 15-minute drive to a bowling alley to celebrate his daughter’s sixth birthday on Wednesday night became a six-hour slog through flood waters that often left him trapped.

“When we got out, it was a war zone,” said Haley, 50, a fitness trainer, who got home to find almost two feet (0.6 m) of water in his basement.

All New Jersey Transit rail services apart from the Atlantic City Rail Line were suspended, the service said on its website.

Amtrak said on Thursday morning that it canceled all passenger rail service between Philadelphia and Boston.

New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport warned about flight disruptions and said about 370 flights were canceled as of Thursday morning.

More than 200,000 electricity customers were without power early on Thursday in five northeastern states that got most of the rains overnight, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to PowerOutage.US, which gathers data from utility companies. There were also outages in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, it said.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Maria Caspani and Peter Szekely in New York, Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey, and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington, Ann Maria Shibu and Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru and Sarah Morland in Gdansk; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Shri Navaratnam, Hugh Lawson, Frances Kerry and Steve Orlofsky)

Storm Grace pounds Mexico’s Caribbean coast with heavy rain

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Hurricane Grace weakened into a tropical storm after passing the Mexican beach resort of Tulum on Thursday, but was expected to regain strength again and cause flooding as it churns across the country’s southeast.

The storm made landfall on the Yucatan peninsula early Thursday as a Category 1 hurricane. Social media images showed downed street signs and palm trees flailing in the wind near Tulum and authorities reported some floods, power outages and toppled trees.

Grace was now heading west and was expected to hit the coast of Veracruz state as a hurricane late on Friday, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. There were warnings of hurricane conditions and dangerous storm surge.

The NHC said Grace would dump 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) of rain over the Yucatan peninsula through Friday, and up to 12 inches in some areas. The heavy rainfall would likely cause areas of flash and urban flooding, it added.

Mexican officials said preparations had been made for the hurricane’s arrival, with dozens of military and rescue workers as well as staff from the national power utility, the Comision Federal Electricidad, gearing up to help.

“We’re ready,” Laura Velazquez, head of Mexico’s civil protection authority, told a regular news conference standing alongside President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Velazquez said the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, Yucatan and Tabasco were likely to receive heavy rainfall.

Grace unleashed downpours and flooding over Haiti and Jamaica earlier this week. By Thursday morning it was about 85 miles west of Tulum, with top sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) the NHC said. The storm was moving west at 18 mph (29 kph).

(Reporting by Dave Graham, Daina Beth Solomon and Diego OreEditing by Mark Porter and Frances Kerry)

10 dead, dozens trapped after landslide in India’s Himalayas – officials

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Alasdair Pal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -A landslide in the mountainous Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has killed at least 10, injured 14 and left dozens trapped after boulders tumbled on to a major highway on Wednesday, smashing and burying several vehicles, Indian officials said.

Around 30 people are still trapped, including passengers inside a bus lying under the debris, Vivek Kumar Pandey, a spokesman for the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police, told Reuters.

“There has been a massive landslide on the Reckong Peo-Shimla highway,” Pandey said, later adding that “operations are under way, we are trying to reach the bus.”

Abid Hussain Sadiq, a top government official in the Kinnaur district where the incident happened, said that rescue operations could continue through the night in an attempt to find the survivors.

More than 200 personnel, including from the army, paramilitary forces and local police, are working along a stretch of National Highway 5 that runs along the Sutlej river and connects northern India to the border with China, officials said.

Local police chief Saju Ram Rana said the landside, which happened around noon on Wednesday, loosened large boulders and sent them cascading down the steep mountainside, blocking about 150 meters of the highway.

“The debris fell from quite high up,” Rana told Reuters, adding that heavy machinery was being brought in to clear the area.

In pictures shared by authorities on social media, helmeted rescue workers can be seen scrambling around the mangled remains of vehicles stranded among rocks and loose earth.

In late July, at least nine people were killed by a landslide in a different part of Kinnaur district, and dozens have been left stranded by landslides and flooding in recent weeks in another area of Himachal Pradesh, a scenic Himalayan state popular with tourists.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Kirsten Donovan)

Southern Europe battles wildfires as north cleans up after floods

ATHENS (Reuters) – Wildfires burned in regions across southern Europe on Monday, fueled by hot weather and strong winds, as some northern countries cleaned up after a weekend of torrential rain and flooding.

In Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said firefighters had battled around 50 fires during the past 24 hours and it was likely there would be more with meteorologists warning that a further heatwave was in prospect.

“I want to emphasize that August remains a difficult month,” he said. “That is why it is important for all of us, all state services, to be on absolute alert until the firefighting period is formally over.”

Fire service officials said negligence on farms and construction sites had been behind several incidents, many of which were in the southern Peloponnese region. No casualties were reported.

Conditions in southern Europe were in sharp contrast to the torrential rainstorms that lashed northern countries from Austria to Britain following the catastrophic flooding in Germany and neighboring countries last week.

On the Italian island of Sardinia, firefighting planes from France and Greece reinforced local aircraft battling blazes across the island where more than 4,000 hectares of forest were burnt and more than 350 people evacuated.

In Sicily, fires broke out near the western town of Erice.

In Spain, the northeastern region of Catalonia saw more than 1,500 hectares destroyed near Santa Coloma de Queralt, forcing dozens to be evacuated, although the blazes were 90% stabilized on Monday, firefighters and authorities said.

In Lietor, in the central east region of Castilla-La Mancha, more than 2,500 hectares burned during the weekend before being brought under control, authorities said.

So far this year, wildfires have burned across 35,000 hectares in Spain, still some way off the 138,000 hectares burned in 2012, the worst year of the past decade.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo Gonzalez in Madrid, Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou in Athens and Emily Roe in Rome; writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Hurricane Elsa cuts power, batters homes in Barbados

By Robert Edison Sandiford

CHRIST CHURCH, Barbados (Reuters) -Hurricane Elsa blew roofs off homes, toppled trees and sparked flooding in the island nation of Barbados on Friday as the storm was forecast to head toward Haiti.

Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs Wilfred A. Abrahams urged Barbadians to shelter in place and only leave their homes if the structures were damaged.

Elsa strengthened into a hurricane earlier in the day and was about 95 miles (153 km) west-northwest of St. Vincent, blowing maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (140 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The NHC forecast 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) of rain with a maximum of 15 inches (38 cm) across the Windward and southern Leeward Islands including Barbados, which could lead to isolated flash flooding and mudslides.

Hurricane conditions were expected in Haiti and possible in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica by late Saturday, the agency said.

The Barbados minister said damage was reported in the south of the island including power outages, fallen trees, flash flooding and damaged roofs.

Emergency services were unable to reach people, but there were no reports of injuries or deaths.

A resident in south Barbados, 43-year-old structural engineer Greg Parris, said his home lost power around 7 a.m. and he saw blown-out roofs and some flooding in his neighborhood.

“It was scary. Most of us, we haven’t experienced anything like this for a while,” Parris said.

Elsa’s progress should be monitored by the Windward Islands, Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Cayman Islands, the Miami-based NHC said.

Little change in Elsa’s strength was forecast over the next 48 hours and some decrease in winds is possible on Monday, the hurricane center said.

Elsa’s storm surge was expected to raise water levels by as much as 1 to 4 feet above normal tide levels in some areas. Puerto Rico could receive up to 5 inches of rain, the NHC.

(Reporting by Robert Edison Sandiford in Christ Church, Barbados; Additional reporting by Kate Chappell in Kingston, Jamaica; Anthony Esposito in Mexico City and Nakul Iyer in Bengaluru; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Cynthia Osterman)

Pacific Ocean storm intensifies into year’s first super typhoon

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) -Strong winds and high waves lashed the eastern Philippines on Monday as the strongest typhoon ever recorded in April barreled past in the Pacific Ocean, killing one man and triggering flooding in lower-lying communities, disaster officials said.

The national weather bureau issued a severe wind and heavy rainfall warning on Monday, saying “destructive typhoon-force winds extend outward up to 110 km (68.35 miles) from the center of the storm”.

More than 100,000 people were evacuated from coastal areas, according to provincial disaster agencies.

The core of Surigae, or Bising as the storm is known locally, is not expected to hit land. But with a diameter of 500 km and winds reaching 195 km per hour, parts of the eastern islands of Samar experienced flooding, while several communities lost power.

The first super typhoon of 2021 foreshadows a busy storm season for the region in the year ahead, experts say.

“Early indications are that the 2021 typhoon season will be at least average in activity, and possibly above average,” U.S. meteorologist Jeff Masters wrote in a post on Yale Climate Connections’ website, which reports daily on climate conditions.

Atmospheric scientists say data shows that storms, called typhoons, cyclones or hurricanes in different parts of the world, are getting stronger because of global warming.

“The fuel for these storms is warm oceans,” said Anne-Claire Fontan, a scientific officer at the World Meteorological Organization based in Geneva.

“The global trend is that they are getting stronger, and a higher percentage of total storms will be stronger.”

A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, allowing gale force winds to dump more rain. In particular, water temperature in the western Pacific Ocean is higher than the global average, making it fertile ground for mega storms like Surigae. The region sees more storms than any other part of the world, more than 70% of which develop at the peak of the season between July and October.

Disaster officials said a 79-year old man from Southern Leyte province in the Philippines was confirmed dead after he was hit by a fallen tree and one person was missing.

The Philippines sees around 20 tropical storms annually. Last year, the strongest typhoon of the year, Goni, hit the country with gusts of up to 310 km per hour, killing 25 people and forcing the evacuation of more than 345,000.

Taiwan, meanwhile, is hoping the storm brings much-needed rain to alleviate a drought, with people taking to social media to welcome it. However, it is expected to veer away from Taiwan out into the Pacific, bringing rain only to the northern part of the island later this week.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in Singapore; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Karen Lema in Manila; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Over 10 million displaced by climate disasters in six months: report

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – About 10.3 million people were displaced by climate change-induced events such as flooding and droughts in the last six months, the majority of them in Asia, a humanitarian organization said on Wednesday.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said about 2.3 million others were displaced by conflict in the same period, indicating the vast majority of internal displacements are now triggered by climate change.

Though the figures cover only a six-month period from September 2020 to February 2021, they highlight an accelerating global trend of climate-related displacement, said Helen Brunt, Asia Pacific Migration and Displacement Coordinator for the IFRC.

“Things are getting worse as climate change aggravates existing factors like poverty, conflict, and political instability,” Brunt said. “The compounded impact makes recovery longer and more difficult: people barely have time to recover and they’re slammed with another disaster.”

Some 60% of climate-IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the last six months were in Asia, according to IFRC’s report.

McKinsey & Co consulting firm has said that Asia “stands out as being more exposed to physical climate risks than other parts of the world in the absence of adaptation and mitigation.”

Statistics from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) show that on average 22.7 million people are displaced every year. The figure includes displacements caused by geophysical phenomenon such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the vast majority are displaced by weather-related events.

Globally, 17.2 million people were displaced in 2018 and 24.9 million in 2019. Full-year figures are not yet available for 2020, but IDMC’s mid-year report showed there were 9.8 million displacements because of natural disasters in the first half of last year.

More than 1 billion people are expected to face forced migration by 2050 due to conflict and ecological factors, a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace found last year.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Thirteen dead, thousands homeless in southern Africa after storm Eloise

By Kirthana Pillay and Emma Rumney

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The death toll from storm Eloise rose to at least 13 on Monday after heavy winds, rain and flooding destroyed buildings, drowned crops and displaced thousands in parts of southern Africa.

Eloise weakened from a cyclone to a tropical storm after making landfall in central Mozambique on Saturday, but continued to dump rain on Zimbabwe, eSwatini – formerly known as Swaziland – South Africa and Botswana.

Six people were killed in Mozambique, the country’s National Institute for Disaster Risk Management and Reduction (INGD) reported, while the number of displaced people rose to more than 8,000, with thousands of homes wrecked or flooded.

A five-year-old child was killed in South Africa’s eastern Mpumalanga province after being swept away, said George Mthethwa, head of communications for the provincial department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

In neighboring Limpopo, fast-flowing rivers destroyed a makeshift bridge, leaving people hoping to cross stranded on either side. Others waded through the knee-high flood waters.

The death toll stood at two in eSwatini, according to police. Three people had been reported killed in Zimbabwe and one in Madagascar.

“Rainfall is starting to ease off slowly,” said Puseletso Mofokeng, senior forecaster at the South African Weather Service, adding there was still a risk of localized flooding as more rain was expected on saturated ground.

Zimbabwe’s national water authority also warned that dams were spilling over and could cause floods further downstream.

Following Cyclone Idai in 2019, rainwater flowed from Zimbabwe back into Mozambique causing devastating floods. Over 1,000 people died across the region, with the impoverished coastal nation bearing the brunt.

Eloise struck an area still recovering from that devastation and already flooded in parts.

Evacuations, warnings and higher community awareness have led to a much lower death toll, but some temporary camps, where evacuees were taken, have been cut off.

Sergio Dinoi, head of the advisory team in Mozambique for the U.N.’s humanitarian arm, said groups were venturing out, in some cases via boat, on Monday to assess the damage.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney and Kirthana Pillay in Johannesburg; Additional reporting by Manuel Mucari in Maputo, Macdonald Dzirutwe in Harare and Lunga Masuku in Mbabane, editing by Ed Osmond)

Storms that slammed Central America in 2020 just a preview

By Sarah Marsh and Sofia Menchu

HAVANA/GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Villagers in Guatemala’s Mayan hillside hamlet Sanimtaca had been about to harvest their cardamom crops that take three years to grow when waves of floodwater triggered by two tropical storms last month washed them away.

Now they have no way to support themselves or to build back the 25 homes – a third of the village – also destroyed in the flash floods that have yet to subside, said Raul Quib, a volunteer from a neighboring community.

“No one had ever seen flooding like it around here,” the 35-year-old who has been collecting food and clothing donations told Reuters. “The school is flooded, the cemetery is flooded.”

This week brought an official close to the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever recorded, with 30 named storms including 13 hurricanes.

And thanks to climate change, experts warn, Central America will have to brace for stronger storm impacts in the future – as well as higher economic damages, unless they prepare.

The region, which already has some of the highest poverty rates in Latin America, was particularly hard hit by hurricanes this year.

Two of the year’s strongest storms, Eta and Iota, ravaged swathes of Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize in unusually quick succession in November.

Altogether, more than 200 people were killed and more than half a million displaced. Hundreds of thousands are now unsure where their next meals will come from.

In Sanimtaca, villagers were able to flee to higher ground in time to escape the flooding. But elsewhere in the mountainous central Guatemalan region of Alta Verapaz, storm-triggered landslides buried dozens of houses with people inside.

Hurricane Eta alone caused up to $5.5 billion in damage in Central America, the Inter-American Development Bank said, while the impact of Iota has not yet been determined.

So far, only Nicaragua has provided official estimates of damage of both storms, putting it at more than $740 million, around 6.2% of gross domestic product.

“If we don’t manage to contain global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, we can expect an intensification of such natural disasters in the region with increasing costs,” said Luis Miguel Galindo, climate change expert and economics professor at Mexico’s UNAM university.

Currently, the world is on track to surpass 2°C of warming above pre-industrial temperatures.

If temperatures rise 2.5 °C by mid-century, the main costs of climate change could tally 1.5% to 5% of the annual GDP of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a 2017 United Nations report that Galindo co-authored. It put the cost of adapting below 0.5% of GDP.

SLOWER STORMS, LONGER SEASON

Climate change overall is changing how hurricanes behave, scientists say, by warming up the ocean water through which they draw their power. Winds are blowing stronger. Storms are dropping heavier rains.

“We have more energy embedded in the oceans, and 90% from climate change,” said Belizean meteorologist Carlos Fuller, the lead climate change negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States.

And hurricanes are sometimes moving more slowly, stalling for longer on land or traveling farther before breaking up, recent research has shown.

That can mean even more rainfall, wind and destruction for communities in a storm’s path. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey turned Houston’s highways into tidal rivers after stalling for four days near or over the Texas coast. Scientists say Eta and Sally behaved this way, too, hence the unusual flooding in Sanimtaca.

“The evidence is building that there is a human fingerprint on this behavior,” said Jim Kossin, climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In a study published in June 2018 in the journal Nature, Kossin found that hurricane speeds had decreased worldwide by about 10% between 1949 and 2016.

This year’s storm count included six major hurricanes, twice the long-term average, said meteorologist Philip Klotzbach, who researches hurricanes at Colorado State University.

The year also saw nine storms that rapidly intensified, he said. Iota for example spun from a 70 mile-per-hour (113 km-per-hour) tropical storm to a 160-mph (257-kph) Category 5 hurricane in 36 hours. The only other years that saw so many such storms were 1995 and 2010.

That can be “a problem from the warning, preparation perspective,” Klotzbach said. “It is hard to prepare if it’s a tropical storm, and then a day later a Category 4 hurricane.”

More storms could also hit outside of the traditional hurricane season going forwards as ocean waters get warmer sooner, said Susan Lozier, an oceanographer and dean at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Sciences. This year, a record-tying two tropical storms were swirling over the Atlantic in May, before the season’s June 1 start.

But it is still unclear if climate change is influencing the number of storms per year and played a role in the record 30 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean this season given natural variability. The number of hurricanes and major hurricanes for the Northern Hemisphere was near average due to a quieter Pacific.

BOLSTERING RESILIENCE

Communities devastated by a hurricane need to find ways to reduce the risk of damages should another hurricane hit, said World Bank regional sustainable development expert Anna Wellenstein.

Natural hazards “become disasters when we build in the wrong place or in the wrong way,” she said. “Countries need more than a few years to really increase their resilience. This is an effort of decades.”

Moving populations away from coastlines vulnerable to floods and storm surges or hillsides that see landslides could help prevent deaths, some experts suggest. Storm predictions and warning systems could be improved. And vulnerable crops can be swapped out for hardier species.

“Rice can survive (rain) water because it grows in water,” said Fuller, the meteorologist in Belize. “So maybe we need to shift to that sort of grain instead of maize for example which will fall.”

A dollar invested in more resilient infrastructure brings four dollars in economic benefits, said Wellenstein.

But many Central American and Caribbean countries, already confronted with poverty and debt, have struggled to prioritize this among so many other pressing needs.

“They don’t have the resources,” said Galindo. “And the pandemic is further reducing revenue and increasing expenses.”

Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei said last month Central America had been the worst affected region in the world by climate change and it would need help from them to stave off mass migration.

Quib, who volunteered to help Sanimtaca, said he expected most of the youth of the village to emigrate to Canada where they could lead a better life.

“If they were already doing it before this happened, they will do so even more now,” he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Additional Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey, Mexico; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)