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Hurricane Beta roared ashore along Nicaragua's remote Caribbean coastline Sunday, ripping off roofs, toppling trees, provoking floods, and causing four rivers to overflow in Honduras before weakening to a tropical storm. There were no reports of deaths or injuries.
Beta hit land near the remote town of Sandy Bay Sirpi, 310 kilometers (200 miles) northeast of the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, as a category 2 hurricane with 105 mph (168 kph) winds, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
By Sunday afternoon, it had weakened to a tropical storm with 65 mph (100 kph) winds as it swept across Nicaragua, dumping up to 15 inches (40 centimeters) of rain. Beta was expected to continue losing strength as it moved farther inland, and to weaken to a tropical depression overnight. It was forecast to dissipate over Nicaragua on Monday.
At 7 p.m. EST the center of the storm was located 85 miles (135 kilometers) northwest of Bluefields, Nicaragua. It was moving west at 7 mph (11 kph.)
Forecasters had predicted the storm would touch down in the far northeastern region of Nicaragua, prompting officials to evacuate thousands of people from the coastal port of Cabo de Gracias a Dios, and from along the River Coco, both on the Honduras border.
But early Sunday, Beta took an unexpected turn south, and headed for Nicaragua's central coastline.
Jack Howard, the mayor of the central coastal town of Laguna de Perlas, told local television that 700 people were trapped in Tasbapauni, a coastal town separated by a lagoon from the rest of the mainland, because they lacked boat fuel.
An additional 10 people were reported missing after their boat disappeared as they tried to escape the storm in the northern coastal city of Puerto Cabezas, said the mayor of that city, Gustavo Ramos. But emergency officials said they were later found alive.
Army chief Gen. Omar Halleslevens told a news conference in the capital that Beta had destroyed or damaged some homes, ripped off building roofs, toppled trees and provoked flooding. He said it also damaged at least one coastal pier.
However, President Enrique Bolanos said that no one was injured or killed.
Education Minister Miguel Angel Garcia said classes were suspended until further notice.
In Honduras on Sunday, authorities evacuated more than 7,800 people from 50 communities along the northeastern Atlantic coast after four rivers overflowed due to heavy rains, said the country's disaster-response chief, Hugo Arevalo.
Strong winds from the storm knocked down signs, fences, trees and electricity and telephone poles, cutting off power and communication in hundreds of communities, while at least two highways were blocked by a flood and a landslide, respectively, Arevalo said.
The Cangrejal River flooded numerous towns on its banks near La Ceiba, on the northern Atlantic coast 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of the capital, Tegucigalpa, said regional disaster response coordinator Abraham Mejia.
Floods also damaged a large amount of rice, corn and bean crops, and sent snakes out of the jungle into residential areas. There were no reports of snakebites, however.
The storm prompted the national soccer league to suspend all games, while international airports in La Ceiba and Roatan were operating sporadically due to poor visibility, strong winds and flooding.
Honduran President Ricardo Maduro said he had requested the use of helicopters from the US air base at Palmerola, 45 kilometers (30 miles) north of the capital, to ferry supplies to flooded areas. He said the government already had begun distributing about 1,800 metric tons (2,000 U.S. tons) of food donated by the United Nations.
"We are facing serious danger from the rain," Maduro said. "We are staying on alert in nearly every part of the nation."
Before edging toward Central America, Beta, the record 13th hurricane of this year's Atlantic storm season, lashed the Colombian island of Providencia with heavy winds, torrential rains and high surf. At least 30 people were injured on the island off Nicaragua's coast, officials said.
Early this month, Hurricane Stan hit southern Mexico at Category 1 strength on October 4, caused flooding and mudslides that killed 71 people in the southern state of Chiapas and left 654 dead - and 828 missing - in neighboring Guatemala. Another 71 died in El Salvador.
Hurricane Wilma, which was a category 4 storm when it made landfall earlier this month, killed four people in Mexico, 12 in Haiti, one in Jamaica and 21 people in Florida. Late last week, Wilma battered Cancun and other tourist resorts on Mexico's Caribbean coastline, causing more than an estimated US$1 billion in damage. Only a handful of deaths were reported, however.