Eta becomes tropical storm inland after battering Nicaragua, Honduras

MANAGUA, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Eta weakened to a tropical storm over Nicaragua on Wednesday after unleashing floods and landslides over the country and in neighboring Honduras, reportedly killing at least three people and stranding dozens of fishermen in the Atlantic.

Eta, one of the most powerful storms to strike Central America in years, hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, before weakening to a tropical storm as it forged inland in the impoverished country.

Homes, roads and key infrastructure were battered by the force of the winds and thousands of people evacuated.

Nicaraguan media reported that two wildcat miners were killed by a mudslide. Meanwhile in Honduras, a 13-year-old girl died in a landslide on her home, the fire department said.

On Tuesday, about 60 fishermen were trapped out at sea in the eastern Mosquitia region of Honduras, according to Robin Morales, a representative of the local population.

By 7 a.m. local time, Eta was blowing winds of 60 mph (97 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. It was grinding through Nicaragua about 90 miles (145 km) west of the port of Puerto Cabezas, moving westward at 8 mph (13 kph).

The storm knocked down trees and power lines and caused serious flooding in northern Nicaragua, national disaster management agency SINAPRED said on Tuesday. Still, Vice President Rosario Murillo said the initial damage was less than feared.

In Honduras, rivers burst their banks, towns and cities on the Atlantic coast flooded, and landslides hit roads.

Eta is now forecast to advance further into Honduras on Wednesday before barreling over Belize and back out into the Caribbean over Cuba toward the end of the week. It is predicted to reach Florida as a tropical storm by Monday, the NHC said. (Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Bernadette Baum)