First tropical storm of Pacific season hits Central America with rain, winds

Thursday, May 29th 2008, 10:35 am
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) -- Tropical Storm Alma slammed into Nicaragua's northwest corner Thursday, near the city of Leon, becoming the first such storm of the eastern Pacific season.

Heavy wind and rains knocked out power, forced evacuations, and flooded low-lying areas all along Central America's Pacific coastline.

Alma's maximum sustained winds were near 65 mph (100 kph) but the storm was expected to weaken as it heads inland over Honduras. Thursday afternoon, it was moving at 9 mph (15 kph.)

Nicaragua's Radio Ya reported that a 30-year-old man was electrocuted in Trasbayo, 40 miles (60 kilometers) southeast of Managua, after a power line snapped under high winds.

"It's raining like I've never seen," teacher Socorro Alvarez said in Leon. "We hope God has mercy on us."

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

Some 1,200 emergency officials were evacuating hundreds of people from flood-prone areas. Heavy rains and flooding knocked out power to some sections of the country.

People crowded Managua supermarkets to buy food, water, candles and batteries, and schools canceled classes and were on standby to become temporary shelters.

Many flights were also grounded, and at least one small plane carrying five people had to make an emergency landing in the Caribbean coastal city of Bluefields because of bad weather conditions.

The storm wrapped the Costa Rican capital of San Jose in a dense fog, slowing traffic to a crawl and causing dozens of accidents. Heavy rains also forced the cancellation of a soccer final.

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.

In the beach town of Garza de Guanacaste, residents began cleaning up after the worst of the storm had passed.

"The winds were terrible," Maria Baltodano said.

Forecasters warn it could dump as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain in places.

The eastern Pacific hurricane season began May 15.


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.)