Felix hits Central America; Henriette roars into Baja California - Valley Morning Star : Local News

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Felix hits Central America; Henriette roars into Baja California

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Posted: Tuesday, September 4, 2007 12:00 am

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — Felix walloped Central America’s remote Miskito coastline and Henriette slammed into resorts on the tip of Baja California as a record-setting hurricane season got even wilder Tuesday with twin storms making landfall on the same day.

Felix caused at least three deaths and damaged thousands of homes in Nicaragua. It’s rains posed a danger to inland villages lying in flood-prone mountain valleys and to urban shantytowns susceptible to mudslides.

The monstrous storm roared ashore before dawn as a Category 5 tempest along Nicaragua’s remote northeast corner — an isolated, swampy jungle where people get around mainly by canoe.

Winds of 160 mph slammed the city of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, peeling roofs off shelters and a police station, knocking down electric poles and destroying or damaging some 5,000 homes, according to Lt. Col. Samuel Perez, Nicaragua’s deputy head of civil defense.

“The metal roofs are coming off like straight razors and flying against the trees and homes,” said local official Lumberto Campbell.

Perez said at least three people died: a man drowned when his boat capsized, a woman was killed when a tree fell on her house and a baby died when the storm prevented medical attention.

Nicaragua’s government declared the northern Caribbean region a disaster area and warned that torrential rain brought by Felix could cause rivers to jump their banks.

Felix weakened steadily throughout the day and was downgraded to a tropical storm, with winds of 60 mph, shortly after nightfall. Still, forecasters worried about damage inland over Honduras and Guatemala. Up to 25 inches of rain was expected to drench the mountain capitals of Tegucigalpa and Guatemala City, where shantytowns cling precariously to hillsides.

“The major concern now shifts to the threat of torrential rains over the mountains of Central America,” said senior hurricane specialist Richard Pasch at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch parked over the same region for days, causing deadly flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 11,000 people and left more than 8,000 missing.

The Honduran government was draining water from behind dams in an attempt to reduce the flooding danger, and 10,000 people were being evacuated from high-risk areas of the capital, mostly from poor neighborhoods and street markets that ring the city.

“If they don’t do it voluntarily, we will force them,” Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo Alvarez said. “We have 500 soldiers and 200 police for just that purpose.”

President Manuel Zelaya said Honduras would remain on maximum alert until it was sure Felix had dissipated.

At 8 p.m. EDT, Felix’s center was 135 miles west of Puerto Cabezas, moving westward at 13 mph, the U.S. Hurricane Center said. It was expected to move over Honduras Tuesday night and early Wednesday.

In the Pacific, Henriette’s top winds increased to 85 mph as it made landfall just after 2 p.m. on the southern tip of Baja, a resort area popular with Hollywood stars and sports fishermen.

Few tourists or residents had expected much trouble, but they awoke Tuesday to dangerous winds, closed airports and forecasts of a direct hit.

“I’ve been hearing it from the wife, coming to Cabo during the hurricane season,” said Derek Dunlap, a 45-year-old engineer from San Francisco. “I was going to roll the dice, and well, here we go.”

Fifteen-foot waves chewed away beaches, crashed against seawalls at beachfront hotels and bashed catamarans against their moorings.

At 8 p.m. EDT, Henriette’s sustained winds dropped to 75 mph as it moved 40 miles inland, on a path to drench Mexico’s northern deserts and then drop an inch or two of rain on Arizona and New Mexico Thursday night. The Mexican government declared a state of emergency in southern Baja California. The storm claimed seven lives even before it strengthened into a hurricane.

Felix was the 31st Category 5 hurricane seen in the Atlantic since record-keeping began in 1886 — and the eighth in the last five seasons. Some meteorologists say human-caused increases in sea surface temperatures are making storms stronger, while others say the numbers are up because new technology allows us to measure their intensity better.

“Today hurricanes are becoming increasingly violent. For example, water from the Carribean, the ocean, is two degrees hotter than before,” Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Tuesday, siding with those who blame climate-change. “This makes steam rise off the ocean more quickly: Hurricanes form faster and are more violent.”

Dr. Chris Landsea, science operations officer at the National Hurricane Center, agreed that global warming is a factor — but a very small one.

“All of the studies suggest that by the end of this century, hurricanes may become stronger by five percent because of global warming. So a 100-miles-per-hour hurricane would be 105 miles per hour,” he said. “Most of what we’re seeing is natural fluctuations.”

Tuesday was historic for two reasons: It was the first time on record that two Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes made landfall in the same year, with Felix coming two weeks after Hurricane Dean slammed into southern Mexico.

And Atlantic and Pacific hurricanes had never made landfall on the same date, according to records that began in 1949. However, at 5 a.m. on Aug. 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated southern Florida 23 hours after Lester hit Mexico’s Baja California, the Hurricane Center said.

In Guatemala, authorities prepared supplies and equipment for heavy rains and flooding from Felix. In Honduras, schools were closed and 11,000 soldiers went on alert as Tegucigalpa residents emptied supermarket shelves and waited in long lines for gas. In the Nicaraguan mining town of Bonanza, 1,000 refugees crowded into 16 shelters. Mayor Maximo Sevilla said most roads were washed out or blocked by debris.

“We are cut off and being beaten by Hurricane Felix,” Sevilla told The Associated Press by phone, pleading for help from emergency officials.

As soon as Felix moved inland, the Nicaraguan army sent in a planeload of soldiers, life jackets and building materials, joining 700 troops patrolling against looting and clearing debris.

———

Associated Press writers Freddy Cuevas in Tegicugalpa, Honduras; Filadelfo Aleman in Managua, Nicaragua; Traci Carl in Mexico City; Jennifer Kay in Miami; and Arthur H. Rotstein in Tucson, Ariz., contributed to this report.

———

On the Net:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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