October 27, 2005

Tropical Storm Beta bears down on Central America

By Ivan Castro

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Beta bore
down on Caribbean islands off Nicaragua's jungle-clad coastline
on Thursday and was forecast to bring heavy rains and flooding
as it strengthens into a hurricane.

Colombia's government issued a hurricane warning for its
San Andres and Providencia islands near Nicaragua, once favored
hideaways of British pirate Henry Morgan and expected to be the
first places hit by the storm.

Beta is expected to reach Nicaragua's mainland on Friday.
It could dump up to 20 inches of rain over parts of Nicaragua,
Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama, already sodden after weeks of
rains spun off by Hurricanes Stan and Wilma.

Hurricane alerts were posted for the Nicaraguan coast and
the adjacent islands, and Honduras issued a storm warning for
its Caribbean coast.

"These rains could overflow rivers and provoke flooding and
even mudslides. The soil in many areas of the country is
saturated with water," Jose Ramon Salinas, head of Honduras'
disaster agency, told Reuters.

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

The sun was shining in Costa Rica on Thursday, but a storm
warning was in effect for most of the country. A storm warning
was also in place in Panama.

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), Beta had top sustained winds
near 50 mph (85 kph). It was about 75 miles south-southeast of
San Andres island and about 175 miles (280 km) east of
Bluefields, Nicaragua.

The slow-moving storm was drifting to the north in the warm
Caribbean, and hurricane conditions were expected over San
Andres on Friday before moving over Nicaragua's coast by

Beta is the 23rd named tropical cyclone of an unrelenting
Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, the most active since
records began 150 years ago.

Weather forecasters switched to the Greek alphabet for
storm names after using up their annual list of 21 names for
the season with Wilma, which was at one point the most intense
hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.

It ravaged Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and southern Florida
and killed 28 people in Florida, the Bahamas, Haiti and Mexico.

Earlier this week, Costa Rica said between 5 and 10 percent
of its coffee crop had been lost to fungus damage caused by
weeks of rain.

Stan left up to 2,000 people dead or missing in Central
America, destroyed as much as 6 percent of Guatemala's coffee
crop and closed roads and bridges across the region.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs through November 30.

(Additional reporting by John McPhaul in San Jose, Mike
Power in Panama City and Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa)