Alberto weakens to tropical depression over northern Mexico, 4 dead

(Reuters) -Alberto, the first named storm of the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season, has weakened into a tropical depression as it moves inland over northeastern Mexico, bringing more heavy rains and flooding after leaving four dead, including three children.

The governor of Mexico's Nuevo Leon state told local media late Wednesday that at least three people under 18 had died due to the storm. By Thursday morning, civil protection had reported a fourth death due to an electric shock, local media reported.

One of the victims was later identified by emergency services as a 15-year-old boy swept away by a current outside Monterrey, Mexico's third-biggest city in Nuevo Leon state, where the Santa Catarina river swelled and broke its banks.

The storm, however, brought much-needed rain across swathes of Mexico, where some of its reservoirs had water levels as low as 8% due to an extended drought and summer heat wave, even filling the much-depleted La Boca dam to the brim.

Brett Anderson, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, said the extreme heat and drought Mexico experienced will become more normal due to climate change, citing temperatures above the historical average at 5.2°C (9.4°F) in the capital, which received barely over a third of the normal rainfall for this period.

Climate change is also expected to contribute to more storms over the Atlantic this hurricane season, as warmer ocean waters allow powerful storms to intensify more rapidly.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Alberto would continue to bring heavy rains and flooding across parts of northeastern Mexico and that much of the Texas coastline could continue to see moderate flooding.

The storm made landfall earlier on Thursday near the Mexican city of Tampico and is churning west across the country at 18 miles per hour (30 kph), packing maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph), the NHC said.

Forecasters had warned that Alberto, which brought rain and storm swells across the Gulf of Mexico, was also interacting with formations in the Pacific, together throwing more downpours on Central America, causing floods and landslides.

At least 22 deaths have been reported in Central America since the heavy rains last weekend. These include 13 in El Salvador, eight in Guatemala and one in Honduras, where authorities said over 900 were evacuated from their homes.

Guatemalan authorities said on Thursday 370 people remained in temporary shelters and almost 300 houses had suffered severe damage.

"The climate crisis is making extreme weather events such as hurricanes and tropical storms more frequent and severe," said Save the Children regional advisor Moa Cortobius.

Some 35 million children are living in exposed areas and are at risk this season in the Atlantic, she added.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland and Kylie Madry in Mexico City, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Natalia Siniawski in Gdansk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Rod Nickel and Richard Chang)