Tue, 04 Sep 2007 19:37 UTC
Hurricane Felix ripped into Central America on Tuesday, trashing a port on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast and threatening dangerous mudslides in Honduras and Guatemala.
Two people were reported dead in Puerto Cabezas in northern Nicaragua, where howling winds tore the roofs off homes and shelters and badly damaged a church.
"My house felt like it was moving with the wind," said resident Julio Mena. Street lights and phone cables lay on the ground.
Uprooted trees flew through the air as thousands sheltered in two schools in the port, home to some 30,000 mostly Miskito Indians.
Felix struck the coast as a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm, awaking fears throughout Central America of a repeat of Hurricane Mitch, which killed about 10,000 people across the region in 1998 in floods and mudslides.
"There could be serious damage and material, like human, losses, if people do not take precautionary measures," warned Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
A local official said two people died in Puerto Cabezas but the civil protection agency in Managua said one of them died of natural causes and the other person was listed as missing.
The area where Felix hit is sparsely populated and dotted with lagoons and marshes. But the storm threatened many poor Honduran and Guatemalan villages further inland that are perched on hillsides and vulnerable to mudslides.
Category 5 hurricanes are rare, but there were four in 2005 as well as the first of the current Atlantic season, Dean, which killed which killed 27 people in the Caribbean and Mexico last month. Others this year could bolster claims that global warming is fueling stronger tropical cyclones.
A noted hurricane forecasting team at Colorado State University said it expected the rest of the 2007 Atlantic storm season to be above-average, maintaining its prediction of a total of 15 named storms.
Felix weakened to a Category 2 hurricane as it crashed through northern Nicaragua but was still very dangerous.
"We expect it to cause rivers to overflow, mudslides and damage to roads so we are calling on towns to take preventive measures and evacuate the populations in the most risky areas," said Honduran civil protection officer Jose Ramon Salinas.
About 70,000 Hondurans were evacuated to shelters, but some 15,000 people were unable to find transport and were forced to ride out the storm in their homes.
Authorities in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, told 10,000 people in areas of the city threatened by flooding to evacuate, or risk being forcibly be moved by police if they refused.
Honduran coffee producers said they did not expect much impact on their crops if Felix keeps to its predicted route, which takes it through the country into Guatemala and then Chiapas in southern Mexico. But Nicaraguan exporters feared pounding rains could damage their coffee crops.
In the Pacific Ocean, Hurricane Henriette lashed Mexico's Los Cabos beach resort on the Baja California peninsula with winds and rain, after killing a tourist on its approach.
In Honduras and Nicaragua, emergency workers sailed thousands of Miskito Indians out of sparsely populated, coastal areas near the border, dotted with lagoons and crocodile-infested rivers.
Some 35,000 of the turtle-fishing Miskitos live in Honduras and more than 100,000 in Nicaragua.
The U.N. World Food Program said it had food stocks in the region that could feed 600,000 people for a month.
Felix looked unlikely to re-emerge over the southern Gulf of Mexico, the home of Mexico's major offshore oil fields.
A Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale is capable of catastrophic damage and heavy flooding. Hurricane Katrina, one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history, was a Category 3 when it made landfall near New Orleans in 2005.
(Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Brian Harris and Ivan Castro in Managua, Michael Christie in Miami and Frank Jack Daniel in Los Cabos)