Tropical Storm Alma Slams Nicaragua, Weakens to Depression

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Tropical Storm Alma weakened to a tropical depression Friday after slamming into Nicaragua's coast the day before, forcing tens of thousand of people to evacuate and flooding low-lying areas before pushing into neighboring Honduras.

By early Friday, the weather system's winds had fallen to about 30 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was expected to dissipate by Saturday.

The National Hurricane Center said Alma was the first tropical storm in the available records to make landfall on Central America's Pacific coast. Such storms normally make landfall farther west, along Mexico's Pacific coast, and often hit Central America's Atlantic coast.

Alma reached land Thursday near the Nicaraguan colonial city of Leon. Mayor Transito Tellez said houses had been destroyed and power knocked out by the storm. Rescue personnel described houses whose roofs had been blow off, and homes that had been crushed by fallen trees.

Click here for the National Hurricane Center.

The storm forced the evacuation of as many as 25,000 people in the area, and telephone service was also knocked out, said Civil Defense Director Mario Perez Cassar.

"The wind whipped up the sand, and it lashed your face like sandpaper," said Erasmo Lopez, a fisherman in the coastal hamlet of Poneloya, near where Alma made landfall. "The trees were shaking like crazy, cars were shuddering, and you couldn't even see in front of you."

Nicaragua's Radio Ya reported that a 30-year-old man was electrocuted in Trasbayo, 40 miles southeast of Managua, after a power line snapped under high winds.

The fast-growing storm took forecasters and many in Central America by surprise. Residents scrambled to prepare for the storm before it hit.

People crowded Managua supermarkets to buy food, water, candles and batteries, and schools canceled classes and were on standby to become temporary shelters. Many flights were also grounded.

The storm wrapped the Costa Rican capital of San Jose in a dense fog, slowing traffic to a crawl and causing dozens of accidents.

Along the coast, some 200 families were evacuated to more than 160 storm shelters set up after Alma dumped rain over the country for 24 hours. Landslides blocked a few highways.

"Last year, a little water came in the house, but now it is completely flooded," Clara Bermudez said as she was taken by boat to a shelter in Parrita.

The eastern Pacific hurricane season began May 15.