PUERTO LA LIBERTAD, El Salvador (AP) – Salvadoran officials evacuated 10,000 people and closed schools Thursday as the eastern Pacific’s first hurricane of the season threatened the impoverished Central American nation and neighboring Guatemala.

Both countries declared emergencies as the storm gained force and headed for their coastlines, carrying heavy rains that forecasters warned could cause flooding.

Forecasters said Adrian was only about 35 miles from the Salvadoran coast, and would likely hit land Thursday night.

President Tony Saca appealed to his citizens to obey evacuation requests as the country faced what was believed to be its first hurricane. “We understand that they are guarding their belongings, but lives are worth more than anything,” he told Radio La Chevere.

In Puerto La Libertad, the beach resort and seafood center closest to San Salvador, streets were nearly deserted as rains sprayed across an increasingly agitated surf and waves pounded the pier.

“You can feel the concern because we have never had anything like this,” said Marco Antonio Hernandez, a seafood vendor.

At least one death was linked to the storm. A military pilot died Wednesday when he crashed a small plane that he was ferrying from San Salvador’s civilian airport to a military base as a precaution against the heavy winds.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center, relying on data from a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane, said Adrian had grown to hurricane force, with maximum sustained winds of about 80 mph. It was moving toward the northeast at about 9 mph, and appeared likely to hit land somewhere between the cities of Acajutla and Zacatecoluca, both south of San Salvador.

The region, where many people live in shacks in sharp ravines, is particularly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch, arriving from the Caribbean, killed at least 9,000 people in Central America.

The U.S. State Department warned the storm was expected to cause severe flooding and urged U.S. residents and tourists in Central America to stay alert.

If Adrian maintains hurricane force, it would be the first time on record that a Pacific hurricane had hit the country, said Antonio Arenas, director of El Salvador’s National Service of Territorial Studies.

El Salvador has no Atlantic coast, though it suffered when Mitch poured through after swamping Honduras. Mitch was downgraded to a tropical storm before reaching El Salvador.

Most Pacific storms spawned off the Central American coast head toward the northwest, roughly parallel to the coastline, then edge out to sea or veer inland farther north, in Mexico.

The Hurricane Center said the storm could survive a passage across Central America and emerge as a tropical depression that would head across Cuba and toward the Bahamas. It was not expected to affect the United States.

On the Net:

U.S. National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

AP-ES-05-19-05 2225EDT

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