SAN ANDRES, Columbia – Tropical Storm Beta (search) churned steadily toward an archipelago off Nicaragua on Friday, as hundreds of tourists and residents hunkered down in shelters where they had spent the night protected from outer bands of wind and rain.
Meteorologists said Beta was on track to reach hurricane strength later in the day, which would make it the 13th hurricane of the already record-breaking Atlantic season of a total 23 named storms.
The National Hurricane Center (search) in Miami issued a hurricane warning for San Andres and the nearby island of Providencia — far flung possessions of Colombia, which is about 450 miles away.
On Thursday, the storm's outer winds reached San Andres (search), where about 500 tourists and 200 residents living in shacks on the southern beaches were moved to shelters set up by the government and fitted with hammocks.
"The emergency workers went door to door with priests and nuns because a lot of the residents didn't want to leave and needed reassuring from the (Catholic) church," said San Andres police chief Col. Carlos Mena.
Officials on both islands said residents are prepared.
"We've been watching the Americans on TV, learning from them," Mena said.
Hurricane Wilma, the most recent storm to hit the United States, has caused widespread outages and gasoline shortages across Florida; and the U.S. Gulf Coast is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina, which caused chaos and devastation in New Orleans and surrounding areas in August.
Storm surge flooding of up to 7 feet above normal tide levels was expected on San Andres, and the island's 80,000 inhabitants were also likely to be hit by as much as 20 inches of rain.
Beta was predicted to reach mainland Nicaragua as a Category 2 hurricane by Sunday. Forecasters said it was not expected to threaten the United States.
Daniel Useche of Colombia's meteorology institute predicted on Friday that the storm's center would sideswipe San Andres and head directly toward Providencia and its 5,000 residents.
"The eye may land right on top of Providencia," Useche said.
San Andres is mostly flat, and the tourist area closest to the beach was evacuated. Providencia is mountainous, with plenty of high ground.
In Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, President Enrique Bolanos called on emergency officials to begin preparing. "We are going to send food, clothing and medicine, even if we have to ask for it on credit," Bolanos said.
Beta's winds strengthened to 65 mph early Friday. At 2 p.m. EDT, the storm was about 20 miles south-southeast of Providencia, about 50 northeast of San Andres and about 190 miles east-northeast of Bluefields, the nearest point on the Nicaraguan coast.
Beta was moving north slowly at near 5 mph, and was expected to take a gradual turn to the northwest.
This year's Atlantic hurricane season has seen more named storms than at any point since record keeping began in 1851. The previous record of 21 was set in 1933.
Last week Tropical Storm Alpha formed, the first time a letter from the Greek alphabet has been used because the list of storm names was exhausted.