Fears of floods after Felix kills 3 in Central America

Tropical storm Felix is forecast to dump up to 25 inches of rain on parts of Nicaragua and Honduras.

hurricane ernesto 88 (photo credit: AP)
hurricane ernesto 88
(photo credit: AP)
Tropical storm Felix is forecast to dump up to 25 inches of rain on parts of Nicaragua and Honduras, officials said early Wednesday, triggering fears of flooding and mudslides in areas where shantytowns cling precariously to hillsides. At least three people were killed and thousands of homes destroyed as Felix pushed over Nicaragua and Honduras on Tuesday, officials said. Hurricane Henriette, meanwhile, made landfall on the region's west coast just hours after Felix hit, and punished resorts on the southern tip of Baja California. Henriette forced airports to close and left tourists to face driving rain and 15-foot waves, but caused no deaths as it headed toward mainland Mexico. Despite quickly diminishing from a Category 5 hurricane to a tropical storm, Felix sparked fears that the worst of its destruction is yet to come. Nervous residents still remember Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which parked over Central America for days, causing flooding and mudslides that killed nearly 11,000 people and left more than 8,000 missing. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Felix could produce 25 inches of rain in some mountainous areas across the region. At least 8 to 12 inches are expected across much of Nicaragua and El Salvador, with 10 to 15 inches forecast for much of Honduras. The rains, the center said, are likely to produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. Eight hours after Felix hit land in Central America on Tuesday, the eye of Hurricane Henriette struck Baja California and hurled toward mainland Mexico - the first time two Atlantic and Pacific hurricanes made landfall the same day, according to records dating back to 1949. Some blame global warming. "Today hurricanes are becoming increasingly violent. For example, water from the Caribbean, the ocean, is two degrees hotter than before," Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Tuesday, siding with those who blame climate-change. "This makes steam rise off the ocean more quickly: Hurricanes form faster and are more violent." Dr. Chris Landsea, science operations officer at the National Hurricane Center, agreed that global warming is a factor - but a very small one. "All of the studies suggest that by the end of this century, hurricanes may become stronger by five percent because of global warming. So a 100-miles-per-hour hurricane would be 105 miles per hour," he said. "Most of what we're seeing is natural fluctuations." At 11 p.m. EDT, Henriette had crossed the Baja California peninsula and was over the Gulf of California headed toward the mainland with winds near 75 mph. Its center was 125 miles east of La Paz and it was forecast to reach mainland Mexico within 24 hours. The Hurricane Center issued hurricane warnings for Mexico's coast from Topolobampo in Sinaloa state north to Bahia Kino. Henriette was expected to drop an inch or two of rain on the U.S. southwest Thursday night. In Nicaragua, Felix slammed into Puerto Cabezas Tuesday with 160 mph winds, peeling roofs off shelters, knocking down electric poles and destroying or damaging some 5,000 homes, according to Lt. Col. Samuel Perez, Nicaragua's deputy head of civil defense. The Puerto Cabezas area has about 60,000 residents and 12,000 homes. Perez said one man drowned when his boat capsized, a woman was killed when a tree fell on her house and a girl died shortly after birth because the storm made it impossible for her to receive medical attention. Nicaragua's government declared the northern Caribbean region a disaster area. In Honduras, the government was letting water out of dams in an attempt to reduce flooding, and 10,000 people were being evacuated from the capital. President Manuel Zelaya said the densely forested region along Honduras' border with Nicaragua served to break down Felix. He said he doubted the storm would bring the devastating mudslides and flooding triggered by Mitch. Rain was pelting down in sheets late Tuesday in La Ceiba on Honduras' coast and the streets were flooded waist-deep in water. "The government hasn't done its job. It hasn't fixed the streets," said 55-year-old Paco de Rivera. At 11 p.m. EDT, Felix's center was 100 miles east of Tegucigalpa, and it was moving westward at 12 mph, the hurricane center said.