Thousands of people remained in shelters in Nicaragua and Honduras on Monday after Hurricane Beta swept across the Central American nations, flooding rivers, downing trees and destroying houses, churches, medical centers and schools.
The remnants of Beta drifted over the eastern Pacific on Monday, and forecasters said there was a slight chance the storm could reform over the ocean.
Packing winds up to 105 mph, Beta dumped as much as 15 inches of rain in Nicaragua and neighboring Honduras, where its outer bands of rain caused four rivers to overflow, isolated communities and damaged crops.
The record 13th hurricane of this year’s Atlantic storm season made landfall Sunday on Nicaragua’s central coast, about 200 miles northeast of Managua, as a Category 2 hurricane before quickly weakening to a tropical storm and eventually becoming a tropical depression before beginning to dissipate.
Huge percentage of buildings damaged
Nicaraguan Civil Defense Chief Col. Mario Perez Cassar said 80 percent of the buildings on the central coast were heavily damaged or destroyed.
“But miraculously, only four people were reported missing and only one was injured,” Perez said.
No serious injuries or deaths were reported in Honduras.
Although the worst of the storm was over, thousands of people remained in shelters in both Nicaragua and Honduras as officials began the task of reconstruction.
Perez said an initial damage assessment would be followed by a more thorough review along the 60-mile Rio Grande of Matagalpa, where the hurricane made landfall at the river’s mouth.
Forecasters had predicted it would touch down in far northeastern Nicaragua, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of people from the coastal port of Cabo de Gracias a Dios and along the River Coco, both on the Honduras border.
But Beta took an unexpected turn south early Sunday and headed for Nicaragua’s central coastline.
“Beta fooled us,” President Enrique Bolanos told Channel 8 television Monday.
In Honduras, Beta left 50 communities isolated and damaged bridges in the northeastern provinces of Gracias a Dios, Atlantida and Colon on the Atlantic coast, President Ricardo Maduro told reporters Monday.
Another 80 communities were cut off after the Wampu River rose beyond its normal levels, army spokesman Capt. Victor Gomez said. The storm caused four rivers to overflow and damaged crops.
Although Beta had moved out to sea, lingering rains from the storm continued to fall on Nicaragua and Honduras on Monday.
Both countries have been especially vulnerable to hurricane damage since Hurricane Mitch caused massive landslides and flooding in 1998 that left more than 10,000 dead and 8,000 missing in Honduras alone.
The region has been pounded recently by hurricanes and heavy rains. Early this month, Hurricane Stan hit southern Mexico at Category 1 strength on Oct. 4, caused flooding and mudslides that killed 71 people in the southern state of Chiapas and left 654 dead — and 828 missing — in neighboring Guatemala. Another 71 died in El Salvador.
Hurricane Wilma, which was a category 4 storm when it made landfall earlier this month, killed four people in Mexico, 12 in Haiti, one in Jamaica and 21 people in Florida.