Hurricane Otto nears the coasts of Nicaragua and Costa Rica
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP):
Hurricane Otto strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane as it churned toward the sparsely populated Caribbean coast border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica Thursday as an unusually strong late-season storm.
Heavy rains from the storm were blamed for three deaths in Panama. Otto was forecast to make landfall Thursday in Nicaragua, just north of the Costa Rican border.
In Bluefields, Nicaragua - the nearest town of any size on the coast - residents prepared to ride out the hurricane.
"In our house, we have packed up some things in plastic bags and we went out to buy some provisions, just in case," said Bluefields resident Jean Hodgson. "But if we had to leave our house, we don't know where we could take refuge." The area is low-lying and easily flooded.
Nicaragua closed schools and was evacuating more than 10,000 people from communities in the storm's path. Heavy rains were expected to affect the entire country, raising the possibility of flooding and landslides.
Officials in Costa Rica ordered the evacuation of 4,000 people from its Caribbean coast and called off school nationwide for the rest of the week. Heavy rain was already causing flooding in some areas and the president announced that public employees would not have to work Thursday or Friday.
No hurricane has made a direct landfall in Costa Rica since reliable record-keeping began in 1851.
The US National Hurricane Center said the storm regained hurricane strength late Wednesday night after fluctuating between tropical storm and hurricane status earlier this week. By Thursday morning, Otto's maximum sustained winds had increased to near 105 mph (165 kph) with additional strengthening possible before landfall.center said.
Meanwhile, Jamaica's MET office says Tropical Storm Otto is not a threat to Jamaica.