A major storm, the first of the 2005 Pacific season, slammed into El Salvador Friday and then broke up over Honduras with its heavy rains still threatening dangerous flash floods and mudslides across Central America.
Hurricane Adrian was downgraded to a tropical storm early Friday after making landfall, but not before it unleashed torrential rains in an area prone to devastating floods and forcing some 14,000 people to seek higher ground.
The storm was breaking up as it moved over the rugged terrain of Honduras, but the danger from heavy rains would remain for another day, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
“The biggest threat from Adrian continues to be torrential rainfall which will likely produce flash flooding and potentially devastating mudslides over the mountainous terrain of Central America,” the center said.
Some areas could get up to 20 inches of rain.
The center of the storm hit a stretch of coast south of the capital San Salvador with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. It was the first recorded Pacific hurricane to strike El Salvador.
But Adrian's winds later fell to 30 mph, below hurricane strength, and the storm was expected to weaken further and continue moving northeast at about 12 mph.
'Emergency situation isn't over yet'
Adrian’s approach had awakened memories of Hurricane Mitch, which killed about 10,000 people, mainly in Honduras and Nicaragua, with mudslides and flooding in 1998.
The eastern Pacific’s first named tropical storm of the season, Adrian washed out roads and unleashed heavy rains that forecasters said could cause severe flooding.
El Salvador officials were assessing damage after the storm roared through the capital of San Salvador, toppling trees and tearing off branches under sheets of heavy rain before moving inland. Swollen rivers still posed a threat.
“The hurricane has entered Salvadoran territory, and several things may now happen,” President Tony Saca said. “This emergency situation isn’t over yet.”
The country’s National Service for Territorial Studies said Adrian hit land near the port of Acajutla, about 35 miles west of San Salvador.
U.S. forecasters placed Adrian closer to Puerto La Libertad, the beach resort nearest San Salvador. Streets in La Libertad were deserted as rains sprayed across an agitated surf and waves pounded at the pier.
Earlier, Saca broadcast an appeal for his citizens to obey evacuation requests.
“We understand that they are guarding their belongings, but lives are worth more than anything,” he told Radio La Chevere.
Authorities evacuated about 14,000 people from low-lying coastal areas, in some cases using helicopters as waters rose. Most were taken to improvised shelters at schools, where classes were canceled.
Rivers rose both in El Salvador and in neighboring Honduras, both nations devastated by Hurricane Mitch — a Caribbean storm — in 1998.
The rains began to wash out some roads in both countries, officials reported.
Already three deaths were indirectly linked to the storm. One military pilot died Wednesday when he crashed a small plane that he was ferrying from San Salvador’s civilian airport to a military base as a precaution against the heavy winds.
Two deaths in Guatemala
In Guatemala, two men were killed and two injured when a mudslide blamed on Adrian swallowed workers digging a ditch near the Mexican border.
In Guatemala’s Puerto San Jose, the memory of Mitch’s pounding left townspeople fearful, and they were not certain the danger had passed.
“Most of us didn’t sleep last night, we were on watch for the storm,” said fisherman Adan Reyes, who cast his line at the side of a muddy river because boats were still banned from leaving the port.
The National Hurricane Center has predicted that 11 to 15 tropical storms will form this season in the eastern Pacific. Six to eight are expected to become hurricanes, which are ranked in ascending categories of strength from from 1 to 5.