MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Hurricane Beta tore the roofs off homes and uprooted trees across Nicaragua before weakening to a tropical depression and dumping rain on the already saturated Central American nation. No deaths or injuries were reported.
Beta hit land near the remote town of Sandy Bay Sirpi, 200 miles northeast of the Nicaraguan capital, Managua (search), as a category 2 hurricane with 105-mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Center (search) in Miami. It then weakened to a tropical storm and eventually became a depression.
At 10 p.m., the depression was moving west at near 9 mph, its maximum winds decreased to 25 mph. Forecasters said the storm could regenerate over the Pacific on Monday.
While powerful at times, Beta was a small storm, with its initial hurricane-force winds extending outward only about 15 miles, the hurricane center said.
Forecasters had predicted Saturday that the storm would hit the far northeastern region of Nicaragua, prompting officials to evacuate thousands of people from the port of Cabo de Gracias a Dios (search) and along the River Coco, both on the Honduras border.
But early Sunday, the record 13th hurricane of this year's Atlantic storm season took an unexpected turn south and headed for Nicaragua's central coast.
Jack Howard, mayor of the central coastal town of Laguna de Perlas (search), told local television that 700 people were trapped in Tasbapauni, a town separated from the mainland by a lagoon.
An additional 10 people were reported missing after their boat disappeared as they tried to escape the storm in the northern coastal city of Puerto Cabezas (search), said the mayor of that city, Gustavo Ramos. But emergency officials said they were later found alive.
Nicaragua's army chief, Gen. Omar Halleslevens, told reporters in the capital that Beta had destroyed or damaged some houses, ripped off building roofs, knocked down trees and caused some flooding. He said it also damaged at least one pier.
"No one was injured, no one was killed, thank God," President Enrique Bolanos (search) said. "We are prepared from coast to coast."
Education Minister Miguel Angel Garcia suggested that people in low-lying areas take refuge in schools until the storm completely passed. Classes remained suspended until further notice.
In Honduras, authorities evacuated more than 7,800 people Sunday from 50 communities north of the Nicaraguan border after four rivers overflowed from rain brought by Beta.
Strong winds knocked down signs, fences, trees and electricity and telephone poles, cutting off power and communication in hundreds of communities and at least two highways were blocked, said the country's disaster response chief, Hugo Arevalo.
Flooding damaged rice, corn and bean fields. High waters also sent snakes out of the jungle into residential areas, although there were no reports of snakebites.
The Honduran government set up shelters at schools and state buildings, while the national soccer league suspended all its games. The airports at La Ceiba and Roatan on the coast were operating sporadically due to poor visibility, strong winds and flooding.
President Ricardo Maduro said he had requested the help of helicopters at the U.S. air base at Palmerola, 30 miles north of the capital, to ferry supplies to flooded areas. He said the government had begun distributing about 2,000 tons of food donated by the United Nations.
Before coming ashore, Beta lashed the Colombian island of Providencia (search) with heavy winds, torrential rains and high surf. At least 30 people were injured on the tiny island about 125 miles off Nicaragua's coast, officials said.
Early this month, the category 1 Hurricane Stan (search) hit this region, causing floods and mudslides that killed at least 654 people in Guatemala and 71 each in El Salvador and the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. An additional 828 people are still missing in Guatemala.
Hurricane Wilma (search), which made landfall as a category 4 storm, killed four people in Mexico, 12 in Haiti and one in Jamaica before killing 21 in southern Florida. It caused an estimated $1 billion in damage to Mexico's Cancun resorts and widespread power outages and other wreckage in Florida.
The U.S. Gulf Coast is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina (search), which devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas in August.