Published October 29, 2005
SAN ANDRES, Colombia – Hundreds of villagers on a tiny Caribbean island hiked into the mountains on Friday, fleeing a powerful storm that engulfed Providencia (search) in heavy winds and rain.
Beta (search) hit Providencia as a tropical storm and became a Category 1 (search) hurricane early Saturday while still whipping the Manhattan-sized island. It was the 13th hurricane this year, a record for the Atlantic season.
Beta was expected to slam into Nicaragua by Sunday, but was not expected to affect the United States. Thousands of people in Nicaragua were being evacuated and army soldiers were brought in to help.
At 2 a.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center (search) in Miami said the hurricane was centered just northwest of Providencia and was traveling northwest at 4 mph. Its maximum sustained wind speed had increased to 74 mph, the threshold for a hurricane, and was expected to strengthen.
The island's 5,000 residents rode out the storm, with some 300 of them and a dozen tourists fleeing wooden homes along the coast for sturdier brick shelters in the highlands, officials said.
"Extensive damage to homes has occurred on the island, and all communications to Providencia have been lost," the hurricane center said.
There were no reports of injury but scores of homes sustained mainly damaged roofs, Capt. German Collazos, chief of ports for the island, told The Associated Press earlier. He said five Americans were among the tourists on the island.
This year has seen 23 named storms, more than at any point since record keeping began in 1851. The previous record of 21 was set in 1933.
In the larger neighboring island of San Andres (search), also Colombian-owned, only the storm's outer bands touched the island, bringing just light rains and wind. After the storm passed, tourists returned to the beaches.
The islands, popular with scuba divers, are located about 450 miles to the northwest of Colombia but just 125 miles off Nicaragua's coast.
Hurricane Wilma (search), 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 (search), which caused chaos and devastation in New Orleans and surrounding areas in August.
Nicaragua issued a hurricane warning for its entire Caribbean-side coast, and forecasters warned of storm surges of up to 13 feet. Late Friday, strong winds and heavy rain began lashing the coastal town of Puerto Cabezas (search), about 250 miles northeast of Managua, where 32,000 residents were preparing to ride out the storm.
Some 8,000 residents of low-lying coastal communities, mainly Indians, were evacuated to local schools. A local hospital evacuated patients, and residents lined up to buy supplies.
"These things are terrifying," said shopkeeper Ofelia Rivera, 63. "No hurricane has ever hit here before."
Classes were canceled, and businesses were warned against price gouging.
"We can't do anything about damage to property," said President Enrique Bolanos (search). "We will see about that afterward. The important thing is to save lives."
Bolanos said the government was sending in food, medicine, clothing and other emergency supplies.
In Jamaica, forecasters issued flash flood warnings Friday amid projections that rain from Beta would cause already swollen rivers to overflow their banks and set off mudslides and flooding.
In Honduras, where Beta may also hit later this weekend, officials set up shelters and sent food and other supplies to areas that might be affected by the storm.