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Weather

Nicaragua, Costa Rica on alert as Otto turns from storm to hurricane

Costa Rica has declared a national emergency, with Hurricane Otto headed straight for Central America after being upgraded from a tropical storm. Nicaragua also lies in the path of the weather system.

Officials warned of potentially deadly flash floods and mudslides across northern Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua on Thursday, with the hurricane path headed straight through both countries.

The US National Hurricane Center upgraded Otto from a tropical storm as it headed landward with sustained winds of 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour. The speed was expected to pick up before landfall.

Costa Rican president Luis Guillermo Solis declared a national emergency, with red alerts in several regions.

The government held an emergency meeting of officials to formulate Costa Rica's response.

All offices in the country not dealing with the storm and its effects were scheduled to be closed on Thursday and Friday.

Costa Rican officials were reported to have begun the evacuation of more than 4,000 people along the northern half of Caribbean coast. However, residents on Nicaragua's far southern Caribbean coast were reported to be headed there to look for safer shelter.

In the Nicaraguan city of Bluefields, which has some 45,000 inhabitants, the AFP news agency reported that there was panic buying of essentials including water and canned goods.

Otto had already proved deadly in Panama soon after it formed, bringing rains and wind that caused a deadly mud slide that killed two people. It also brought down a tree that crushed a nine-year-old boy in a car in the capital.

Another blow that the hurricane could deal would be the destruction of crops, with Nicaragua one of the poorest countries in Latin America relying heavily on agricultural output. Small farmers in the at-risk area depend on maize, beans, cocoa, honey, coffee and livestock for their livelihoods.

rc/bw (AFP, Reuters)

 

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