SAN ANDRES, Colombia (AP) – Tropical Storm Beta sideswiped the Colombian island of San Andres on Friday, sparing hundreds of residents and tourists who had hunkered down in shelters overnight.

The storm, which appeared on track to become the 13th hurricane of the already record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, still threatened the smaller, neighboring Colombian island of Providencia and the Nicaraguan mainland.

Officials on both islands said residents were prepared for the worst.

“We’ve been watching the Americans on TV, learning from them,” said San Andres police chief, Col. Carlos Mena.

Hurricane Wilma, the most recent storm to hit the United States, has caused widespread outages and gasoline shortages across Florida; and the U.S. Gulf Coast is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina, which caused chaos and devastation in New Orleans and surrounding areas in August.

In San Andres, 110 miles west of Nicaragua’s coast, the storm brought just light rains and wind, and after the island’s police lifted a ban on outdoor activity, some tourists returned to the beaches and swam in the ocean.

After passing over mountainous Providencia, Beta is expected to reach mainland Nicaragua as a strong Category 2 hurricane by Sunday. It was not expected to hit the United States.

The islands, popular with scuba divers, are far-flung possessions of Colombia, which is about 450 miles away.

In Nicaragua, the government was evacuating 5,000 people from the Caribbean coastline and sending in troops to help the remote region prepare for the storm’s expected arrival.

“We can’t do anything about damage to property,” said President Enrique Bolanos. “We will see about that afterward. The important thing is to save lives.”

Classes were canceled, and businesses were warned against price gouging as the storm’s outer bands of winds and rain began lashing the coastline.

Bolanos said the government was sending in food, medicine, clothing and other emergency supplies.

At 2 p.m. EDT, the storm had winds of about 65 mph; it was about 20 miles south of Providencia and about 190 miles east of Bluefields, Nicaragua, the nearest point on the mainland.

Beta was moving north slowly at about 5 mph, and was expected to take a gradual turn to the northwest.

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has seen more named storms than at any point since record keeping began in 1851. The previous record of 21 was set in 1933.

Last week Tropical Storm Alpha formed, which was the first time a letter from the Greek alphabet has been used because the list of storm names was exhausted.

AP-ES-10-28-05 1632EDT


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