October 28, 2005

Nicaraguans flee villages to escape storm Beta

By Cyntia Barrera Diaz

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Hundreds of Miskito
Indians streamed into makeshift shelters in a sleepy Caribbean
port on Friday as Nicaragua prepared for Tropical Storm Beta,
the latest cyclone in a record breaking season.

Speaking in the local Miskito language, barefooted fishing
families carrying clothing in bags and furniture on their backs
fled exposed coastal hamlets to seek protection in Puerto
Cabezas, where schools doubled as storm shelters.

"We heard on the radio we had to leave," said fisherman
Bismark Williams, 35, who was picked up by a boat under
government orders to evacuate as many people as possible from
the coast.

Beta whipped up winds of 65 mph (100 kph) and was expected
to charge up to hurricane strength and make landfall on
Nicaragua's border with Honduras on Sunday morning.

"We think 600-700 people have already come in, and there
are more boats on their way," said Orlando Aberlado, in charge
of deploying the fishing craft used in the evacuation.

Small fishing villages populated by Indian tribes like the
Miskitos and descendants of escaped African slaves are strung
along the Caribbean coast of Honduras and Nicaragua.

It is one of the region's most isolated areas and transport
is often by plane or boat along muddy rivers.

"We are considering evacuating some 8,000 people from
different places along the coast," said Col. Mario
Perez-Cassar, the head of Nicaragua's civil defense.

Puerto Cabezas' hospital stocked up with medicines for
pneumonia in case slow-moving Beta cuts off the low-lying area
with its strong winds and torrential rains.

A rainbow arched over the town of 30,000 people as heavy
rainfall temporarily eased on Friday evening.

A record number of cyclones have hit the Atlantic-Caribbean
area this hurricane season and residents were concerned after
Hurricane Wilma wrecked Mexico's Caribbean beach resorts,
flooded Cuba and pounded southern Florida this month.

Another hurricane, Stan, killed as many as 2,000 people,
mostly Guatemalan highland villagers, by deluging large areas
of Central America with heavy rain early in October.


Beta hit Colombia's San Andres and Providencia islands on
Friday, ripping roofs off homes, but there were no reports of
deaths. The islands, near Nicaragua, were once favored
hideaways of famous 17th century Welsh pirate Henry Morgan.

"Beta is expected to produce rainfall totals of 10 to 15
inches across northeastern Honduras, Nicaragua and San Andres
and Providencia with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches
possible," the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Authorities in Honduras were on alert for mudslides and
flooding from rivers when the rain starts to fall hard.

"We are working on the worst-case scenario and sending
food, medicine and road-repairing equipment and getting
shelters ready in schools and other public buildings for
possible evacuations," said Juan Ramon Salinas, head of
operations at the Honduran civil protection agency.

Governments fear landslides if the storm moves further
inland and maintains its strength. Mudslides are usually the
most deadly effect of hurricanes in Central America, where many
poor people live in flimsy shacks on the sides of hills or

At 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT), Beta had top sustained winds near
65 mph (100 kph). It was about 155 miles southeast of Puerto
Cabezas and moving north-northwest at 5 mph (7 kph).

(Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa)