Hurricane kills 4 in Costa Rica

AFP , Friday 25 Nov 2016

A worker repairs power lines damaged by strong winds before the arrival of Hurricane Otto in Limon, 160 km east of San Jose, on November 24, 2016 (Photo: AFP)

A hurricane that churned its way through Nicaragua and Costa Rica before exiting into the Pacific on Friday killed at least four people and caused millions of dollars of damage, officials said.

The deaths and much of the property damage were recorded in Costa Rica, where several people were also missing, President Luis Guillermo Solis told a news conference.

In neighboring Nicaragua, officials reported no casualties, just dozens of homes damaged in low-lying areas.

Hurricane Otto sparked red alerts in both countries when it spun in from the Caribbean on Thursday with winds of up to 175 kilometers (110 miles) per hour.

It made landfall in southeastern Nicaragua, in an area with national reserves that is sparsely inhabited, before crossing into Costa Rica, losing strength as it went.

Early Friday it headed out into the Pacific Ocean as a downgraded tropical storm. It should continue to weaken, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Solis said the storm dumped a month's worth of rain in just a few hours in Costa Rica. Authorities said it caused around $8 million of damage to roads.

Aerial television pictures from northern Costa Rica showed water and mud in several towns, and small bridges collapsed.

A police official, Luis Guillermo Fonseca, said two of the storm's victims died in villages close to the Nicaraguan border and the other two in Bagaces, a village north of the capital San Jose.

A resident in the town of Upala, near the border, Juan, told the Repretel channel he lost his son when rising waters tore away his home on a river bank.

In Nicaragua, the government's spokesperson, First Lady Rosario Murillo, said: "Up to now, thank God, we haven't counted any loss of human life."

Officials in both countries had evacuated the most at-risk areas before the hurricane hit, and closed schools and mobilized emergency crews.

They said 5,500 people were put up in shelters in Costa Rica. Nicaragua had 44 shelters operating for many of the 10,500 people who had been evacuated.

Early this week, as Otto gathered strength in the Caribbean, its outer bands of wind and rain contributed to the deaths of eight people in Panama, according to the national civil protection service.

On Thursday, at the same time as the hurricane struck, a 7.0 earthquake was registered on the other side of the Central American isthmus, 120 kilometers (75 miles) offshore in the Pacific Ocean.

Although it prompted panicked residents in El Salvador's capital to run out of buildings, and briefly sparked tsunami alerts in El Salvador and Nicaragua, no damage was reported.

The sole casualty was in Nicaragua, where a person died of a heart attack.

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