Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Catastrophic Hurricane Felix hits Nicaragua

Haroon Siddique and agencies
Guardian Unlimited

Hurricane Felix today made landfall in north-eastern Nicaragua as a category 5 storm with the potential to cause catastrophic damage.

Felix, which had previously been downgraded to category 4, had peak winds of 155mph as it hit land. It marked the first time in recorded history that two maximum-rated storms had come ashore in the same season.

Ahead of the hurricane's arrival, ten of thousands of people on the Miskito coast, which straddles the Honduras-Nicaragua border, took refuge in shelters. Felix was expected to rake northern Honduras before slamming into southern Belize tomorrow and cutting across northern Guatemala and southern Mexico.

Up to 40,000 Hondurans were evacuated to shelters but some 15,000 people were unable to find transportation and were forced to ride out the storm in their homes.

"They couldn't be evacuated because there is no fuel to take them to safe areas," said Carolina Echeverria, an official in the Honduran town of Cabo Gracias a Dios.

Hundreds of tourists were flown to the Honduran mainland from beach and diving resorts on the Bay Islands, and police reported long lines at supermarkets and gas stations in coastal cities as residents stocked up on food, water and fuel.

A Chinook helicopter yesterday evacuated 19 US citizens from Roatan, including tourists and members of a US taskforce visiting the island.

Emergency workers sailed thousands of Miskito Indians out of sparsely populated coastal areas near the border amid fears that their community could be devastated by Hurricane Felix.

The Miskitos formed a British protectorate until the 19th century. Some 35,000 live in Honduras, and more than 100,000 in Nicaragua.

The US national hurricane centre in Miami said Felix could dump up to 30cm of rain in isolated parts of northern Honduras and north-eastern Nicaragua, possibly bringing flash floods and mudslides.

The hurricane, the second of the Atlantic season after Hurricane Dean, prompted fears of a repeat of 1998, when Hurricane Mitch killed some 10,000 people in Central America.

The Honduras civil protection head, Marco Burgos, said: "We are faced with a very serious threat to lives and property. The most important thing is that people pay heed to the call for evacuation so that we don't have to count bodies later."

The World Food Program said its food stocks in the region could feed 600,000 people for a month.

Meanwhile, off Mexico's Pacific coast, tropical storm Henriette reached hurricane strength on a path to hit the resort-studded tip of the Baja California peninsula today.

Dean, the first storm of the Atlantic season, killed 27 people in the Caribbean and Mexico last month.

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