- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Hurricane Beta swirled onto Nicaragua’s central Caribbean coast yesterday, ripping off roofs, toppling trees and flooding low neighborhoods before weakening to a tropical storm. Heavy rain in Honduras caused four rivers to overflow and damaged farm crops.

No deaths or injuries were reported, but officials said about 10 people were thought to be missing after trying to escape the storm by boat.

Beta came ashore near the remote town of Sandy Bay Sirpi, 200 miles northeast of Managua, as a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

By midafternoon, it had weakened to a tropical storm with 65 mph winds as it moved inland, dumping up to 15 inches of rain. Beta was expected to continue losing strength and weaken to a tropical depression overnight.

Although it was powerful, Beta was a small storm, with its initial hurricane-force winds extending outward only about 15 miles, the hurricane center said. At 4 p.m., it was about 65 miles northwest of the coastal town of Bluefields, moving west at 7 mph.

Forecasters had predicted Saturday that the storm would hit the far northeastern region of Nicaragua, prompting officials to evacuate thousands of people from the port of Cabo de Gracias a Dios and along the River Coco, both on the Honduras border.

But early yesterday, the record 13th hurricane of this year’s Atlantic storm season took an unexpected turn south and headed for Nicaragua’s central coast.

Jack Howard, mayor of the central coastal town of Laguna de Perlas, told local television that 700 people were trapped in Tasbapauni, a town separated from the mainland by a lagoon.

Nicaragua’s army chief, Gen. Omar Halleslevens, told reporters in the capital that Beta had destroyed or damaged some houses, ripped off building roofs, knocked down trees and caused some flooding. He said it also damaged at least one pier.

“No one was injured, no one was killed, thank God,” President Enrique Bolanos said. “We are prepared from coast to coast.”

However, Gustavo Ramos, mayor of the coastal city of Puerto Cabezas, said there were worries about 10 people missing near his town. He said they were reported missing after their boat disappeared while they tried to escape Beta.

In Honduras, authorities evacuated more than 7,800 people yesterday from 50 communities north of the Nicaraguan border after four rivers overflowed from 4 inches of rain brought by Beta.

Honduran President Ricardo Maduro said he had requested the help of helicopters at the U.S. air base at Palmerola, 30 miles north of the capital, to ferry supplies to flooded areas.

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