October 30, 2005

Hurricane Beta lashes Nicaragua, threatens mudslides

By Cyntia Barrera Diaz

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Hurricane Beta lashed
Nicaragua's Caribbean coast on Sunday, destroying homes and
toppling trees before losing steam overland, although its
torrential rains still threatened mudslides and floods.

The storm hit small villages along the coastline with winds
of 110 mph (175 kph) and torrential rains. No deaths were
reported but officials said a boat with 10 people aboard was
missing from the remote coastal town of Puerto Cabezas.

Defense Minister Avil Ramirez told Reuters that scores of
flimsy homes were wrecked when a swollen river broke its banks
in the village of Karawala, near where Beta came ashore.

An army spokesman said 120 homes were destroyed in the area
but no one was killed or injured.

The flooding extended to neighboring Honduras, where in the
fishing town of Iriona local residents climbed onto the roofs
of their homes to escape the high waters.

"About 80 percent of the town is flooded," said the mayor,
Simeon Crisanto. "My own house is under water. The water is
above my knees."

Some 8,000 people were evacuated and the government flew in
food, water and blankets as rivers broke their banks along
Honduras' Caribbean coast.

Nicaraguan army units had rushed thousands of people into
makeshift shelters in Puerto Cabezas, fearing a devastating
direct hit from Beta. But they were largely spared when it made
an unexpected late turn to the south.

It then quickly lost power over land and was downgraded to
a tropical storm with 40 mph (65 kph) winds by Sunday evening,
although it was still dumping heavy rain and emergency
officials feared flooding and 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."


Both Nicaragua and Honduras were ravaged in 1998 when
Hurricane Mitch's relentless rains killed about 10,000 people
in flooding and landslides across Central America. This month,
Hurricane Stan killed up to 2,000 people in the region, most of
them Maya Indians in Guatemala's highlands.

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

At 7 p.m. EST (0000 GMT), it was about 85 miles northwest
of Bluefields, Nicaragua's other Caribbean port, and was moving
westward at 7 mph (11 kph).

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Beta would fade to
a tropical depression in coming hours but warned it would still
drop 10 to 15 inches of rain on Nicaragua and Honduras, with up
to 25 inches possible in some spots.

"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and
mudslides," the Miami-based center said. It also forecast heavy
rain in El Salvador and southern Honduras.

In Puerto Cabezas, eight families 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.
"I was the one who was panicking, but I had to keep calm as the
church leader."

Beta 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 Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa
and Ivan Castro in Managua)