Nicaragua declares red alert Hurricane Beta pounds coast

HURRICANE Beta pounded Nicaragua’s east coast with heavy rains and powerful winds last night as thousands sought protection in boarded-up homes or government shelters.

As the storm hit land near the remote town of La Barra, it weakened to a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami. It was expected to sweep across Nicaragua, dumping up to 15 inches of rain.

While powerful, Beta was a small hurricane, with hurricane force winds extending outward up to 15 miles, the centre said.

Before edging westward toward Central America, Beta, the record 13th hurricane of this year’s Atlantic storm season, lashed the Colombian island of Providencia with heavy winds, torrential rains and high surf.

At least 30 people were injured.

The slow-moving storm battered the mountainous island for more than 12 hours and more than 300 wooden homes and buildings were damaged.

Nobody was killed as most of the 5,000 islanders found safety by climbing the island’s many hills to hunker down in brick shelters.

In Nicaragua, President Enrique Bolanos declared a maximum “red alert” late on Saturday, ordering some 45,000 people from the port regions to stay in their homes or hole up in 15 shelters provided by the government.

Earlier in the day, army troops evacuated 10,000 people from the far eastern coastal port of Cabo de Gracias a Dios, and from along the River Coco, both on the Honduras border, said Nicaragua’s national civil defence director, Lt. Col. Mario Perez Cassar.

The Civil Defence Department sent 100 army rescue specialists along with various land and water vehicles. A tent hospital also was set up, while universities and public schools were converted into shelters. Flights to the Nicaraguan islands Islas del Maiz were cancelled.

Residents of low-lying neighbourhoods in Puerto Cabeza were taken to provisional shelters on higher ground as heavy rains and wind began to batter the coast, flooding some low-lying neighbourhoods.

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