October 30, 2005

Hurricane Beta slams into Nicaragua and Honduras

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 and threatening mudslides.

Beta lost some punch before making landfall and a late turn
to the south spared the port of Puerto Cabezas from a direct
hit. Once overland, it lost further steam but was still a
strong Category 1 hurricane with winds of 90 mph (150 kph).

Emergency officials said no deaths were reported, although
Beta was expected to cut straight across Nicaragua, raising
fears of flooding and lethal mudslides in mountain villages.

"We have not had reports of deaths, no people knocked
about, nor injured," said civil defense operations chief Samuel
Perez. "But we expect rivers to swell."

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 but Beta
caused little structural damage.

In neighboring Honduras, communications went down as
isolated coastal villages flooded, aid officials said.

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, most of them Maya Indians in
Guatemala whose homes were swallowed in landslides.

About 200 people crammed into one crumbling school in
Puerto Cabezas 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," said Norma Smith, a
mother of six.


Eight families, including three pregnant women, spent the
night holed up in a small Baptist church, its windows protected
from howling winds and torrential rain by wooden boards.

"We prayed," said Azucena Coulson, the wife of the pastor,
who was on a visit to the United States. "I was the one who was
panicking, but I had to keep calm as the church leader."

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

Small fishing hamlets dot the isolated Caribbean coast of
Nicaragua and Honduras, populated by Miskito Indians and the
descendants of escaped African slaves.

At 10 a.m. EST (3 p.m. GMT), Beta was inland south of
Puerto Cabezas and 50 miles 80 km north of Bluefields,
Nicaragua's other Caribbean port, moving southwest at 7 mph (11

The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned rains of 10 to 15
inches would hit Nicaragua and eastern Honduras with isolated
maximum amounts of 25 inches possible.

"Beta is expected to rapidly weaken during the day today,"
the Miami-based center said, with wind speed expected to fall.

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, flooding Cuba and pounding southern Florida.

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