PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Hurricane Felix ripped into Central America on Tuesday, trashing a port on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, killing at least four people and threatening deadly mudslides in Honduras and Guatemala.
The storm, which hit land as a powerful Category 5 hurricane, ravaged Puerto Cabezas in northern Nicaragua, where howling winds tore the roofs off homes and shelters and damaged a church.
“My house felt like it was moving with the wind,” resident Julio Mena said. 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. Four people died in the town and surrounding coastal area, including a young girl.
Felix stoked 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.
Felix came hard on the heels of another Category 5 storm, the most powerful type. Last month, Hurricane Dean killed 27 people in the Caribbean and Mexico.
It was the first time on record that two Atlantic hurricanes made landfall as Category 5 storms in the same season, and the fourth time since records began in 1851 that more than one Category 5 formed in a year.
In the Pacific Ocean, Hurricane Henriette lashed Mexico’s Los Cabos resort on the Baja California peninsula on Tuesday with winds and rain, after killing a foreign tourist on its approach.
Despite growing consensus that global warming may spawn stronger tropical cyclones, weather experts believe it is too soon to blame climate change for the back-to-back hurricanes.
The area where Felix hit is sparsely populated and dotted with lagoons and marshes. The storm threatened many poor Honduran and Guatemalan villages further inland that are perched on hillsides and vulnerable to mudslides.
Felix weakened to a Category 1 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,” Honduran civil protection officer Jose Ramon Salinas said.
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 Honduras and Nicaragua, emergency workers took thousands of Miskito Indians out of coastal areas near the border. Some 35,000 of the turtle-fishing Miskitos live in Honduras and more than 100,000 in Nicaragua.
Felix looked unlikely to emerge over the southern Gulf of Mexico, the home of Mexico’s major offshore oil fields.
Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Noel Randewich in Tegucigalpa, Brian Harris and Ivan Castro in Managua, Michael Christie in Miami and Frank Jack Daniel in Los Cabos
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