SAN ANDRES ISLAND, Colombia (AP) – A strengthening Hurricane Beta headed for Central America’s Caribbean coast Saturday after lashing the small Colombian island of Providencia with harsh winds, heavy rains and high surf.

Nicaraguan troops evacuated thousands of people from low-lying areas as forecasters predicted the Category 1 hurricane could reach Category 3 strength before making landfall on the mainland near the border between Nicaragua and Honduras.

Beta, the record 13th hurricane of this year’s Atlantic storm season, was not expected to hit the United States.

As wind and rain pounded the coast of Honduras, President Ricardo Maduro declared a maximum state of alert. He reminded people of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which stalled over Honduras with 120 mph winds, sweeping away bridges, flooding neighborhoods and killing thousands.

At 5 p.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 75 miles east of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, moving westward at about 5 mph. Its maximum sustained winds were around 90 mph.

The storm began pummeling mountainous Providencia late Friday, tearing roofs off wooden homes and causing hundreds of people to move to brick shelters in the highlands. Electricity and telephone service were knocked out for the 5,000 people on the Manhattan-sized island.

Several people sustained minor injuries, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said, without providing an exact figure. “The calming news is that there were no fatalities,” Uribe said.

A Colombian frigate loaded with emergency supplies was due to arrive later Friday at the island, a former pirate outpost inhabited mostly by descendants of slaves. It lies about 125 miles off the Nicaraguan coast.

In Nicaragua, some 8,000 people in low-lying coastal communities, mainly Indians, moved into schools, and a hospital evacuated patients. People lined up for supplies as wind and rain buffeted Puerto Cabezas, where 32,000 residents prepared for the storm.

The National Hurricane Center warned that Beta could bring a storm surge up to 13 feet and 10 to 15 inches of rain could fall in Central America.

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

In Honduras, authorities evacuated more than 50 people because of flooding from heavy rain at Gracias a Dios, a town on the border with Nicaragua. Officials closed schools and the airport at La Ceiba, 215 miles north of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Beta was the 23rd named storm of the Atlantic season, the most since record-keeping began in 1851. The previous record was 21 named storms in 1933.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.