Felix kills 9 in Nicaragua

Hurricane damages thousands of homes, spares Honduras

September 06, 2007|By Hector Tobar | Hector Tobar,Los Angeles Times

MEXICO CITY -- Hurricane Felix killed at least nine people and damaged thousands of homes as it passed through Nicaragua. But the storm failed to produce the major flooding that many feared in neighboring Honduras, officials said yesterday.

Little more than a day after it came ashore as a Category 5 hurricane, Felix was downgraded to a tropical depression. In the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, where 300,000 people were evacuated from low-lying neighborhoods, the rain stopped and life returned to normal.

On Mexico's Baja California peninsula, where a second hurricane struck less than nine hours after Felix, officials were breathing a sigh of relief. The eye of Hurricane Henriette made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane just six miles from San Jose del Cabo, but damage to the region's tourist industry was minimal, officials said.

"Everything is in good shape, and we are ready to begin receiving tourists," said Alberto Trevino, tourism secretary for the state of Baja California Sur. Most hotels will reopen by tomorrow, he said.

Trevino said Baja California Sur would seek federal disaster funds - but only to pay for a publicity campaign to reassure foreign tourists that the hurricane did little damage.

Mexican officials said a 69-year-old woman who died Tuesday morning in Cabo San Lucas, hours before the hurricane's arrival, was the victim of a drowning accident, not the storm.

Henriette remained a Category 1 hurricane, with winds reaching 75 mph, as it crossed the Gulf of California and entered lightly populated marshlands in the state of Sonora yesterday afternoon. It was expected to dump 3 to 6 inches of rain in the region.

In Baja California Sur, authorities said the most serious damage occurred in rural communities south of La Paz, the state capital. The highway linking the communities to La Paz was cut, and several arroyos in the region flooded. But most residents had been evacuated ahead of the storm, officials said.

There also was damage to roads that link Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo to the rest of the Baja peninsula, official said.

Felix produced its most severe damage in the Nicaraguan coastal town of Puerto Cabezas, where it struck with 165 mph winds. Roughly 90 percent of the structures were damaged, officials said, including the town pier.

Nicaraguan news reports said more than three dozen residents of the community of Barra Sandy Bay were missing and that the death toll could increase.

The homes of about 30,000 people in the Miskito Coast region of eastern Nicaragua were damaged or destroyed, disaster officials said. Because the region is separated from the rest of the country by dense jungle, relief supplies will have to be flown in or transported by sea.

But the thousands of deaths feared by many who recalled the ravaging of the Central American isthmus by Hurricane Mitch in 1989 did not materialize.

"The situation is grave," said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. "But thanks to God, the number of victims ... wasn't of the magnitude of Mitch."

Honduran Defense Minister Aristides Mejia said good preparation had helped keep injuries to a minimum.

"Because of the experience of Mitch, people took many precautions," Mejia said. "People evacuated with time to spare."

Honduran authorities said a "red alert" remained in effect in the mountainous regions of Comayagua and Choluteca because rain could cause mudslides.

Hector Tobar writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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