'No one expected a hurricane' in El Salvador

Hurricane Adrian was downgraded to a tropical storm after making landfall on Friday in El Salvador, quickly losing wind speed but still packing torrential rains and flash-flood danger, as thousands of evacuees await news they can go home.

Hurricane wind speeds that at one point reached 140kph when Adrian was over the Pacific Ocean have slowed to near 100kph as the tropical storm was over central El Salvador, travelling north-eastward at 19kph, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said in a statement at 9am GMT.

Hurricane warnings along the coast of El Salvador have been replaced with a tropical-storm warning as the circulation of the storm continues dwindling, with the centre predicting that it may dissipate altogether before reaching the Caribbean Sea.

The centre, however, continued to warn against rainfall accumulations of 15cm to 25cm, with isolated higher amounts of near 50cm in the mountains, warning of life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Ahead of the storm, El Salvador authorities evacuated 19 000 people in the path of swollen rivers in the western part of the country, while the streets of San Salvador emptied of people in the evening hours, forcing restaurants, shops and movie theatres to close early.

In Honduras, which Adrian was expected to reach later on Friday, emergency services had earlier prepared to evacuate up to 160 000 people from coastal areas and flood-prone regions.

Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos said in Managua: “A yellow alert has been declared beginning Thursday to last 48 hours.”

Central America is still recovering from flooding triggered by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed more than 11 000 in the region and left about 1,5-million homeless.

If Adrian holds together after crossing Honduras, it is expected to head out over the Caribbean Sea, where it could pick up speed once again.

Martin Nelson, with the National Hurricane Centre, said it is “rare, although not unheard of”, for a storm that gathers in the Pacific to move eastward and across Central America.

“It’s been a few years since that happened,” Nelson said.

Virtually the entire region across Central America has been on alert since Wednesday in preparation for the hurricane’s arrival.

In El Salvador, Minister of Family Affairs Auda Prieto said the government had seven tonnes of beans, rice and corn ready for emergency delivery, enough to feed about 500 000 families.

In San Salvador, markets on Thursday were bursting with customers buying emergency supplies.

“For anyone who has children, the situation is worrisome,” said Victor Campos (30), who was at San Salvador’s main open-air market with his wife.

“In El Salvador we are accustomed to earthquakes and storms, but I don’t think anyone expected a hurricane,” he said.—AFP

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