Deadly Tropical Storm Lashes C. America, Heads for U.S.


A tropical storm sliding north along Central America Thursday has unleashed heavy rains that have killed at least eight people in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, with forecasters predicting it could strengthen into a hurricane headed for the United States.

Costa Rica declared a national emergency as it struggled with mudslides, washed out roads and overflowing rivers.

Schools, universities, government offices and state banks across the Central American nation were closed.

Officials in Costa Rica said six people died: four Costa Ricans -- including a three-year-old girl -- hit by falling trees and mudslides, and two young Nicaraguan farm workers. At least 15 people were missing.

In neighboring Nicaragua, two people died, and seven people were missing, Vice President Rosario Murillo told state media.

More than 5,000 people were being put up in shelters in Costa Rica after having to abandon their homes because of flooding and the risk of unstable ground giving way, the director of the country's National Emergency Commission, Ivan Brenes, said.

At least 18 main roads were closed and another dozen were only partially open. In the northwest Guanacaste region popular with tourists many roads were so flooded as to be impassable to all but four-wheel-drive vehicles and horses.

- Forming into a hurricane -

The rain was caused by Tropical Storm Nate, which on Thursday was located overland in eastern Nicaragua.

The US National Hurricane Center said it expected the storm to keep tracking north, gaining force as it went.

It said Tropical Storm Nate would be "near hurricane intensity" by the time it hit Mexico's southern Yucatan Peninsula late Friday, then strengthen into a hurricane as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico to hit the southern United States somewhere between the states of Louisiana and Florida.

"It is too early to specify the exact timing, location, or magnitude of these impacts," the center said.

The United States is recovering from two major hurricanes: Hurricane Harvey that tore through Texas in August, and Hurricane Irma in September.

Another powerful storm, Hurricane Maria, ripped through the Caribbean in late September, wreaking destruction on several islands, including Dominica and Puerto Rico.

- Crocodile alert -

In Costa Rica, an alert was issued for people to be wary of crocodiles that might be roaming after rivers and estuaries flooded.

Concerned football officials were monitoring the situation but said they intended to go ahead with a World Cup qualifying match between Costa Rica and Honduras scheduled for late Friday in the capital San Jose.

The country's main international airport was opened, but with multiple flight cancellations.

The annual rainy season is currently underway in Central America, a five-month period typically ending in November in which the risk of flooding and mudslides rise.

This year's has been intense, with some areas in the region getting up to 50 percent more rain than average for September and October.

The worst-hit country in the region has been Honduras, where 32 people have died so far this season, according to national emergency service officials.

Guatemala suffered 26 deaths, and another 300,000 people were affected, and 4,000 homes were damaged.

In El Salvador, six people died and a national alert urging vigilance was issued last week.

In Panama, a mudslide on Saturday killed six people in an indigenous area.

Belize issued a public warning over Tropical Storm Nate, urging "preparations to protect life and property" and for people in flood-prone areas to move to higher ground.

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