PUERTO LA LIBERTAD, El Salvador – Salvadoran officials evacuated some 10,000 people and closed schools Thursday as Hurricane Adrian (search) steamed toward the country's coast.
El Salvador and Guatemala declared emergencies as the eastern Pacific's first named tropical storm of the season, gained force and headed directly for the coast, carrying heavy rains that forecasters said could cause devastating flooding.
Forecasters said Adrian was only about 35 miles from the Salvadoran coast, and would likely hit land Thursday night.
In Puerto La Libertad (search), the beach resort and seafood center closest to El Salvador's capital, San Salvador, streets were nearly deserted as rains sprayed across an increasingly agitated surf and waves pounded at the pier.
"You can feel the concern because we have never had anything like this," said Marco Antonio Hernandez, a 40-year-old seafood vendor.
The U.S. State Department warned the storm was expected to cause severe flooding and urged U.S. residents and tourists in Central America to stay alert.
Salvadoran President Tony Saca (search) broadcast an appeal for his citizens to obey evacuation requests.
Authorities evacuated about 10,000 people from low-lying coastal areas near the city of Zacatecoluca, east of La Libertad.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported Adrian had grown to hurricane force, with maximum sustained winds of about 80 mph. It was moving toward the northeast at about 9 mph, and appeared likely to hit land somewhere between the cities of Acajutla and Zacatecoluca, both south of San Salvador.
The region, where many people live in shacks clinging to sharp ravines, is particularly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch, arriving from the Caribbean, killed at least 9,000 people in Central America.