Hurricane Otto hits Nicaragua coast as quake shakes region

Image: http: People who were evacuated from their homes wait for food at school used as a shelter as storm Otto approaches in Guapiles, Costa Rica November 23, 2016. REUTERS/ Juan Carlos Ulate

By Ivan Castro

BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua (Reuters) – Hurricane Otto hit the southeastern coast of Nicaragua on Thursday, arriving just before a powerful earthquake off El Salvador’s Pacific coast shook the region and sparked warnings of a possible tsunami.

Otto, the seventh Atlantic hurricane of the season, landed north of the town of San Juan de Nicaragua, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. The Category 2 hurricane was blowing 110 mph (177 kph) winds when it hit, on the cusp of Category 3.

Soon after, a 7.0 magnitude quake struck 149 km (93 miles) south-southwest of Puerto Triunfo, El Salvador at a depth of 10.3 km (6.4 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves up to one meter (3.3 feet) were possible on the coasts of El Salvador and Nicaragua.

There were no immediate reports of damage from the quake in El Salvador, but local emergency services ordered the coastal population to withdraw up to 1 km (0.6 mile) from the shoreline.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega declared a state of emergency because of the storm and the quake, his spokeswoman and wife, Rosario Murillo, announced.

In Bluefields, a city in Nicaragua’s southeastern Mosquito Coast, rainfall began early on Thursday morning, with local forecasters suggesting the storm would hit around midday. By late Wednesday evening, local authorities had evacuated 600 people, with plans to move a further 7,000 into storm shelters.

“We left because we don’t want to die; we love our lives,” said 53-year-old Carmen Alvarado, who was hunkering down in a school in Bluefields. She was among the 206 people evacuated from the coastal community of El Bluff.

“The fear there is that we were surrounded by water,” said 42-year-old Senelia Aragon, standing next to Alvarado, preparing a breakfast of flour tortillas with beans.

Bluefields, once an infamous pirate hangout, was smashed by Category 4 Hurricane Joan in 1988, a devastating storm that destroyed many of the town’s 19th century wooden houses.

Otto was moving west at 9 mph (14 kph), the NHC said.

On the Corn Islands, which face Bluefields and are popular with tourists, 1,400 people were evacuated to shelters, with another 1,000 more moved from Punta Gorda, which lies south along the coast from Bluefields, local emergency services said.

Government officials said there had been some people along the country’s southeast coast who refused to evacuate, but the officials declined to say how many.

The NHC said Otto was the southernmost hurricane on record to hit Central America and should weaken as the storm moves deeper inland. Otto will likely become a tropical storm by Thursday evening, the center added.

Total rainfall of 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm), with isolated amounts of 15 to 20 inches, is expected across northern Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua on Thursday.

“These rains will likely result in life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the NHC said.

It was not immediately clear what impact the quake had elsewhere in Central America.

(Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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