Hurricane Joan, with heavy rains and winds swirling up to 110 m.p.h., battered the Colombian resort island of San Andres on Friday, flattening houses, toppling trees and knocking out power as it continued its trek toward the east coast of Central America.
Joan, which was expected to hit Nicaragua this morning, has killed at least 45 people, left 50 others missing and more than 100,000 homeless after striking Colombia and Venezuela.
According to Radio Caracol, based in Bogota, Colombia, dozens of people were reported injured on San Andres, 185 miles east of Nicaragua, but there was no immediate word on whether there were any deaths.
Heavy swells were reported on the east coasts of Nicaragua and Costa Rica on Friday afternoon as Joan continued to move west at nearly 5 m.p.h.
The National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla., said hurricane warnings were in effect for the east coast of Nicaragua and that flash-flood and mudslide warnings were posted for Costa Rica, Nicaragua and western Panama.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who placed his country under a state of emergency Thursday, toured the southern coastal city of Bluefields with a team of Cuban hurricane experts Friday morning to inspect storm shelters and evacuation procedures.
In a radio broadcast Friday, Ortega urged the region’s population of about 60,000 to remain calm.
Tens of thousands of residents along 250 miles of coastline were seeking shelter. Officials said at least 52,000 people had been evacuated in Costa Rica and Nicaragua by Friday afternoon.
“It’s mostly children, women and old people,” said Julio Aragon in Juigalpa, Nicaragua, 100 miles west of the Caribbean coast. “They’re carrying everything they can--chickens, pigs, sacks of beans and other small belongings.”
Government officials have said that if Joan hits Bluefields as expected, its winds would cause tremendous damage to the rickety wood-frame buildings that make up 90% of the city’s structures.
Meteorologists predicted that Joan will be the worst storm to hit Nicaragua since records have been kept.