October 28, 2005

Nicaragua evacuates coast as storm Beta looms

By Cyntia Barrera Diaz

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Fishermen set out
along Nicaragua's Caribbean coast on Friday to evacuate
villagers and rush them to shelters as Tropical Storm Beta
loomed, the latest storm to batter Central America.

The hospital in the sleepy port of Puerto Cabezas stocked
up with medicines for pneumonia in case slow-moving Beta cuts
off the low-lying area with its strong winds and torrential

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.

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 last week.

"We heard about Wilma and we're a bit nervous," said
Veronica Cateo, the owner of a small convenience store.

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.

The Nicaraguan coast is one of the region's mostly isolated
areas. Transport is often by light plane or boat along muddy

Fishing boats were picking up threatened villagers.

"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.

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.


The eye of the storm was set to pass near Colombia's San
Andres and Providencia islands on Friday. The islands, near
Nicaragua, were once favored hideaways of famous 17th century
Welsh pirate Henry Morgan.

Meteorologists forecast Beta would become a hurricane and
make landfall early on Sunday morning.

"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.

Drizzle fell on Friday morning in Puerto Cabezas, home to
30,000 people. Locals said a hurricane had not hit there in
living memory and some were curious to know what it would be

"People are happy about the hurricane but they don't know
what it is," said Maria Bermudez, 66, the manager of a hostel.

At 11 a.m. EDT, Beta had top sustained winds near 65 mph.
It was about 185 miles southeast of the Nicaraguan coastal town
of Bluefields and moving at five mph (seven kph).

Authorities in Honduras and Costa Rica were on alert for
possible flooding from rivers when the rain starts to fall

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 precarious shacks on the sides of hills or