October 30, 2005

Hurricane Beta slams into Nicaragua’s jungle coast

By Cyntia Barrera Diaz

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Hurricane Beta
slammed into Nicaragua's Caribbean coast early on Sunday, its
powerful winds and rains pinning thousands of people inside
flimsy shelters.

Beta lost some punch before making landfall and a late turn
to the south spared the town of Puerto Cabezas from a direct
hit but it was still a powerful Category 2 hurricane with winds
of 110 mph (175 kph) and torrential rains.

In this normally sleepy fishing town in the remote jungle
of northeast Nicaragua, residents and Miskito Indian evacuees
from fishing villages rushed into makeshift shelters.

About 200 people crammed into one crumbling school with a
rotting wooden frame and holes in its tin roof.

"We had a very bad night. The water leaked in, the children
were cold. They brought us here without telling us anything. We
don't have food or water," Norma Smith, a mother of six, said
on Sunday morning.

Emergency officials said no deaths had been reported but
Beta was expected to cut straight across Nicaragua, raising
fears of lethal mudslides in mountainous areas even as it

Neighboring Honduras was also at risk and its government
declared a national emergency, preparing to evacuate 125,000

Both countries were ravaged in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch,
whose heavy rains killed about 10,000 people across Central
America. Earlier this month, Hurricane Stan killed up to 2,000
people in Central America when its rains caused mudslides. Most
of Stan's victims were Guatemalan highland villagers.

"We are doing everything humanly possible," Nicaraguan
President Enrique Bolanos said in a late night television and
radio address.

Beta is the 13th hurricane and 23rd named storm of the
relentless, record-breaking Atlantic season.


Small fishing villages populated by Indian tribes like the
Miskitos and descendants of escaped African slaves are strung
along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and Honduras, one of
Central America's most isolated areas.

Residents are traditionally wary of outsiders and officials
were unable to persuade many to leave their homes.

"These people do not believe in danger until they really
feel it," said Col. Mario Perez-Cassar, the head of Nicaragua's
civil defense.

At 7 a.m. EST (noon GMT), Beta was hitting the coast about
75 miles south of Puerto Cabezas and moving southwest at 8 mph
(13 kph).

The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned of storm surge
flooding of up to 17 feet and said rains of 10 to 15 inches
would hit Nicaragua and eastern Honduras with isolated maximum
amounts of 25 inches possible.

In Honduras, residents rushed to supermarkets to buy basics
and long lines formed at gasoline stations.

"Look at what happened with Mitch. There were no roads left
then and food didn't arrive," said Pablo Leiva, 52, as he
stocked up on canned food, grains and oil at a supermarket in
the capital Tegucigalpa.

Beta earlier ripped roofs off homes on Colombia's small
Caribbean island of Providencia, which along with neighboring
San Andres was once a favored hideaway of famous 17th century
Welsh pirate Henry Morgan. No deaths were reported.

Last week, Hurricane Wilma wrecked Mexico's Caribbean beach
resorts, flooded Cuba and pounded southern Florida.

(Additional reporting by Hugh Bronstein in Bogota, Gustavo
Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Ivan Castro in Managua)