May 19, 2005

Rare Pacific Hurricane Heads Towards Central America

MIAMI (AFP) -- A hurricane gathered off the Pacific coast of Central America and was making a direct course toward El Salvador and Guatemala, officials said.

Hurricane Adrian currently has sustained winds of some 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour, making it a Category 1 hurricane on the five-level scale, officials at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

Central America is still recovering from flooding triggered by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed more than 11,000 in the region and left some 1.5 million homeless.

Just before 1800 GMT the center of the storm was located over the ocean, some 195 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of the Salvadoran capital. It was moving towards the northwest at a speed of 15 kilometers (nine miles) per hour.

Martin Nelson with the Hurricane Center said that it was "rare, although not unheard of," for a storm that gathers in the Pacific to move eastward and across Central America. "It's been a few years since that happened," Nelson said.

Adrian is projected to make landfall somewhere between Guatemala and El Salvador late Thursday.

"Rainfall accumulations of six to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) with isolated higher amounts of near 20 inches (50 centimeters) can be expected," the Hurricane Center said in a statement.

"These rains are likely to cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides."

El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the southern Mexican state of Chiapas have been under alert since Wednesday in preparation for the hurricane's arrival.

In El Salvador, Family Affairs minister Auda Prieto said the government had seven tonnes of beans, rice and corn ready for emergency delivery, enough to feed some 500,000 families.

Salvadoran rivers have already began to overflow, forcing the evacuation of some 19,000 people, said General Gustavo Perdomo, a top emergency coordinator.

In the capital San Salvador, markets were bursting with customers buying emergency supplies.

"For anyone who has children the situation is worrysome," said Victor Campos, 30, who was at San Salvador's main open air market with his wife. "In El Salvador we are accustomed to earthquakes and storms, but I don't think anyone expected a hurricane," he said.

Campos bought bread, chicken, and sacks of beans and rice for his family.

Umbrellas were in short supply, but street vendors were doing brisk business selling water ponchos and hardware stores were busy selling flashlights and batteries.

"It's been a crazy sales day with this of Adrian," said hardware store owner Jose Salome. "We ran out of batteries in minutes, and we're already out of flashlights."


On the Net:

National Hurricane Center