Tropical Storm Gamma kills six

Flooding killed three people in Honduras and downpours caused a small plane crash that killed three others in Belize, officials said Saturday, as &to=' target=_blank>Tropical Storm Gamma drifted off the coast of Central America.

Forecasters said Gamma, the 24th named storm of an already record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, was likely to stay out to sea as it moved past Belize and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, before turning west toward Cuba. It could reach storm-weary southern Florida by Monday.

The &to=' target=_blank>storm had maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph (75 kph) and was expected to strengthen only slightly, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

It was located about 215 miles (355 kilometers) east of Belize City, that nation's capital, and was expected to pick up speed as it drifted northward.

In Belize, search teams were blaming bad weather associated with Gamma for the crash of a private plane from an exclusive lodge owned by U.S. filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. A Belizean pilot and two unidentified passengers were killed, said G. Michael Reid, a police spokesman.

On Saturday afternoon, Belize discontinued a tropical storm warning for its coast and Mexico called off Gamma-related warnings for the Yucatan.

Earlier, the storm brought torrential rains to much of Central America, especially 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 three Hondurans had died and 13 more were missing, but he had no details on individual cases.

Gomez said five major rivers overflowed their banks, washing out bridges and highways and sparking flooding. Officials evacuated more than 5,000 people, some of those from areas in San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second-largest city.

Nelly Soliman, the mayor of El Progreso, 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Tegucigalpa, said all major sections of that city had been flooded.

Heavy winds and rains were also pounding the Bay Islands, off the Honduran coast, Hugo Arevalo, coordinator of a national disaster-response committee, said at a news conference.

"The damage is terrible along all the northern coast of the country," he said. "Many of our countrymen are suffering, but we are doing all we can to bring them food, medicine and clothing."

In Belize, police had not released details _ including names and hometowns _ of the three plane crash victims. Heavy cloud cover made it difficult for a rescue helicopter to reach the crash site, officials said.

Wreckage from the plane was discovered on the 7,200-acre (2,900-hectare) property of the Hidden Valley Inn in the Mountain Pine Ridge area, a manager for the resort said. He refused to provide further details.

The aircraft disappeared Friday, last making radio contact with air controllers 10 minutes into its 35-minute flight to the Blancaneux Lodge near the western border with Guatemala.

Rescuers were still searching for five Belizean fishermen from the northern fishing village of Sarteneja near the Mexican border who disappeared on Friday. Their 20-foot (6-meter) vessel was capsized by a large wave, police said.

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.

In Costa Rica, heavy rains prompted authorities to evacuate 600 people, said Reynaldo Carballo, a government spokesman.

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