Wed, Sep 05, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Hurricane Felix hits Category 5, blasts Nicaraguan coast

AP , LA CEIBA, HONDURAS

Hurricane Felix slammed into Nicaragua's Miskito Coast as a record-breaking Category 5 monster storm yesterday in an area home to thousands of stranded Miskito Indians.

Meanwhile, off Mexico's Pacific coast, Tropical Storm Henriette strengthened into a hurricane with 120kph winds and the US National Hurricane Center said it was plowing toward the upscale resort of Cabo San Lucas, popular with Hollywood stars and sea fishing enthusiasts.

Felix landed around dawn at Punta Gorda with winds of about 260kph, only two weeks after Hurricane Dean struck Mexico, further up the Caribbean coast. It was first time that two Category 5 hurricanes have hit land in a season since 1886, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Only 31 such storms have been recorded in the Atlantic, including eight in the last five seasons.

Nicaragua's Civil Defense chief, Rogelio Flores, said 2,000 people were evacuated before the hurricane blew roofs off homes, blocked roads and knocked out telephone service. But many other Miskito Indians refused to leave low-lying areas and head to shelters set up in schools. Twenty fishermen were missing, the newspaper La Prensa reported.

Communication to the area was largely cut off, making it difficult to find out what was happening as the storm's winds began hitting the remote, swampy area, much of it reachable only by canoe. The Nicaraguan government sent in some soldiers before the storm hit, but was preparing to send in more help once the hurricane passed.

Flores, who said he was getting radio reports from officials sent in before the storm, said there were no immediate reports of casualties.

In the seaside resort of La Ceiba, residents spent the night reinforcing flimsy house walls with plywood and sandbags.

"It's going to be strong, but we have faith that Christ will protect us," said 37-year-old housewife Sandra Hernandez, watching satellite images of the storm on television.

Meanwhile, Mexico's Pacific coast prepared as Henriette strengthened into a hurricane and was on a path to hit the tip of the Baja California Peninsula yesterday afternoon. The storm had sustained winds of 120kph.

At 8am EDT it was centered about 120km south-southeast of the peninsula.

Before dawn yesterday, strong waves pounded the resort's beaches, rain fell in sheets and strong winds whipped palm trees. More than 100 residents spent the night in makeshift shelters as the storm approached, and more were expected to leave their homes yesterday.

Felix's massive storm surge could devastate Indian communities along the Miskito Coast, an isolated region straddling the Honduras-Nicaragua border where Miskito Indians live in wooden shacks, get around on canoes and subsist on fish, beans, rice, cassava and plantains. Thousands were stranded along the coast late Monday.

The only path to safety is up rivers and across lakes that are too shallow for regular boats, but many lack gasoline for long journeys. Provincial health official Efrain Burgos estimated that 18,000 people must find their own way to higher ground.

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