Tropical Storm Alma weakens to depression after hitting Central America with rain, winds


Friday, May 30th 2008, 10:37 am
By: News 9


By FILADELFO ALEMAN

Associated Press Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) -- Tropical Storm Alma weakened to a depression and swept across Honduras on Friday, dumping rain and leaving flooded coastal towns in its wake.

By early Friday, the storm's maximum sustained winds had fallen to 25 mph (40 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm was expected to dissipate into a low pressure system within hours along a trajectory that would take it over Belize, Guatemala and southeastern Mexico.

Alma reached land Thursday near the Nicaraguan colonial city of Leon, the first such storm to hit land for the eastern Pacific season.

Mayor Transito Tellez said houses had been destroyed and power knocked out by the storm. Rescue personnel described houses whose roofs had been blown off, and homes that had been crushed by fallen trees.

The storm forced the evacuation of as many as 25,000 people in the area and also knocked out telephone service, said Civil Defense Director Mario Perez Cassar.

"The wind whipped up the sand, and it lashed your face like sandpaper," said Erasmo Lopez, a fisherman in the coastal hamlet of Poneloya, near where Alma made landfall. "The trees were shaking like crazy, cars were shuddering and you couldn't even see in front of you."

Nicaragua's Radio Ya reported that a 30-year-old man was electrocuted in Trasbayo, 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of Managua, after a power line snapped under high winds.

The fast-growing storm took forecasters and many in Central America by surprise. Residents scrambled to prepare for the storm before it hit.

The storm wrapped the Costa Rican capital of San Jose in a dense fog, slowing traffic to a crawl and causing dozens of accidents.

Along the coast, some 200 families were evacuated to more than 160 storm shelters set up after Alma dumped rain over the country for 24 hours. Landslides blocked a few highways.

"Last year, a little water came in the house, but now it is completely flooded," Clara Bermudez said as she was taken by boat to a shelter in Parrita.

The eastern Pacific hurricane season began May 15.

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Associated Press writers Marianela Jimenez in San Jose, Costa Rica; Marcos Aleman in San Salvador, El Salvador; and Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)