26 Nov 2016

Storm kills four in central America as 7.0 quake hits

7:48 am on 26 November 2016

Tropical storm Otto has killed at least four people and forced thousands to evacuate their homes after battering Nicaragua and Costa Rica with hurricane-force winds and torrential rains.

Homes in El Canal neighbourhood in Bluefields, Nicaragua, lay empty as Hurricane Otto belted towards the country.

Homes in El Canal neighbourhood in Bluefields, Nicaragua, lay empty as Hurricane Otto belted towards the country. Photo: AFP

Otto hit the coast on Thursday from the Atlantic as a hurricane in southeastern Nicaragua, but weakened rapidly and became a tropical storm by early Friday as it drifted deeper into the Pacific, the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

In Costa Rica, the national emergency commission reported that two men and two women were killed by the storm, which dumped more than a month's worth of rain in some areas near the Nicaraguan border.

About 255 communities were affected, with more than 5500 people housed in 50 shelters across the country, the Commission said.

"After a fateful night in parts of the country, we're starting to realise the scale of the tragedy that hit us," Costa Rican President Luis Guillmero Solis said.

Nevertheless, in Nicaragua, there were no immediate reports of deaths. In the port of Bluefields, north of where the storm landed, there was very limited damage.

"It was a relief for us," said William Salmeron, a 39-year-old businessman in the city.

"I wasn't scared, just the normal fear you need to have with hurricanes."

The sun shone in Bluefields on Friday, and people went shopping in the market. Down by the shore, others took their boats out of storage and down to the water.

Across Nicaragua, people in evacuation shelters were making their way home, local authorities said.

Otto, the seventh Atlantic hurricane of the season, landed north of the town of San Juan de Nicaragua as a Category 2 storm, the Miami-based NHC said.

By Friday morning, Otto was heading out to the Pacific with top sustained winds of 105km/h about 394km south-southeast of San Salvador.

Residents of the Masacahapa seaside resort in the San Rafael del Sur municipality, Nicaragua stand by on the ready in case of tsunami alert after the region was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

Residents of the Masacahapa seaside resort in the San Rafael del Sur municipality, Nicaragua stand by on the ready in case of tsunami alert after the region was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Photo: AFP

In a freakish coincidence, soon after Otto landed on Thursday, a magnitude 7 earthquake struck about 149km southwest of Puerto Triunfo, El Salvador.

There were no reports of major damage from the quake, which along with Otto, prompted Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to declare a state of emergency.

- Reuters

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