Hurricane Julia barreled south of the Colombian island of San Andres on Saturday night shortly after intensifying into a tropical storm as Nicaraguans rushed to prepare for the storm’s arrival on the coast overnight.
After gaining strength during the day, Julia’s maximum sustained winds increased to 120 km/h (75 mph) by Saturday evening, the US National Hurricane Center said.
The center of the storm was located about 30 km west-southwest of San Andres and 200 km east-northeast of Bluefields, Nicaragua, and was moving west at 28 km/h.
Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, declared “maximum alert” on the islands of San Andres and Providencia in the north and asked hotels to prepare a place to shelter the vulnerable population.
San Andres officials imposed a curfew for residents at 6 a.m. Saturday to limit the number of people on the streets. Air operations to the islands were suspended.
Similar precautions are being taken in Nicaragua’s central Caribbean coast, where authorities have issued a warning to all types of vessels to seek safe harbor. The hurricane followed a common path toward the Bluefields and Pearl City area.
Nicaraguan soldiers are deployed to help evacuate residents of the islands and reefs around the town of Sandy Bay Searpi. The army said it had delivered humanitarian supplies to Bluefields and Laguna de Perlas for distribution to 118 temporary shelters.
Forecasters said a bigger threat than Julia’s winds was the 13 to 25 cm (5 to 10 inches) of rain – up to 38 cm in some areas – the storm is expected to dump across Central America.
“This rainfall has the potential to cause life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides through this weekend,” the US National Hurricane Center said.
The remnants of the storm are forecast to cross Nicaragua and then skirt the Pacific coast Salvador and Guatemala, a region already inundated with weeks of heavy rain.
U Guatemalaofficials said Julia could drench 10 departments in the east, center and west of the country, the area hardest hit by the rainy season and where the poorest people are concentrated.
Between May and September, storms caused 49 deaths and six people went missing. Roads and hundreds of houses were damaged, according to Guatemalan authorities.
In El Salvador, where 19 people have died this rainy season, the heaviest rainfall is expected on Monday and Tuesday, said Fernando López, the minister of environment and natural resources.
Officials said they have opened 61 shelters that can accommodate more than 3,000 people.