Thousands of people in Nicaragua have been evacuated from their homes as Hurricane Beta neared Central America’s Caribbean coast early today, pounding the mainland with heavy rains and high winds.
At 1am EST (6am irish time), Beta was centred about 120 miles south of Cabo Gracias a Dios and about 55 miles southeast of Puerto Cabezas. There was a chance the storm could increase to a category 3 hurricane before making landfall, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Beta was moving toward the southwest at about 8mph, with the core expected to make landfall later this morning.
The storm was expected to dump 10 to 15 inches of rain across eastern Honduras and Nicaragua.
Beta was the 13th hurricane this year, more than any Atlantic season on record. This season has seen 23 named storms, more than at any point since record-keeping began in 1851.
Thousands of residents awaited the storm in boarded-up homes or in government shelters.
The hurricane’s winds had increased to nearly 110mph as Beta headed toward the Nicaragua-Honduras border. A category 3 storm has winds of at least 111 mph.
Before edging westward toward Central America, a slow-moving Beta, the record13th hurricane of this year’s Atlantic storm season, lashed the Colombian island of Providencia with heavy winds, torrential rains and high surf.
Several people were injured during the hurricane, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said on Saturday, though he did not provide an exact figure or give the extent of the injuries. No deaths were reported.
Roofs were ripped off of dozens of wooden homes, the island’s main communications tower was knocked over and a tourist foot bridge was torn apart. But most of the 5,000 islanders stayed safe by climbing Providencia’s many hills to hunker down in brick shelters.
In Nicaragua, President Enrique Bolanos declared a maximum ”red alert” late on Saturday, ordering everyone to stay inside, and said that some 45,000 people from the port regions were either secured in their homes or holed 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 closed and converted into shelters. Flights to the Nicaraguan islands Islas del Maiz were cancelled.
Residents of low-lying neighbourhoods in Puerto Cabeza also were taken to provisional shelters on higher ground as heavy rains and wind began to batter the coast, flooding some low-lying neighbourhoods. Businesses raised food prices in response to the heavy demand, while bottled water supplies ran out.
Mayor Gustavo Ramos said 10 people were reported missing after their boat disappeared in the storm, trying to escape the storm.
In Honduras, President Ricardo Maduro declared a maximum state of alert as strong winds and intense rains from Beta began to batter the Atlantic coast. Authorities evacuated more than 50 people due to flooding in a coastal city also known as Gracias a Dios, on the border with Nicaragua.
Schools were closed in La Ceiba, 215 miles north of the capital, Tegucigalpa, and officials also shut down the international airport.