13th hurricane in this year's, Beta leaves Colombian island behind, heads for Central America

Hurricane Beta battered the mountainous Caribbean island of Providencia on yesterday, ripping roofs off wooden homes and forcing people to seek shelter in brick shelters on high ground.

Heading toward Central America, the record 13th hurricane of this year's Atlantic storm season lashed the Colombian island with heavy winds, torrential rains and high surf, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

After passing over the island, the Category 1 hurricane shifted its northwest direction and began heading west toward Nicaragua and Honduras, which issued hurricane warnings for their Caribbean coasts and began evacuations. Forecasters predicted it could become a Category 3 storm before making landfall on Sunday.

One minor injury was reported in Providencia, a man whose face was cut by flying debris, according to Colombia's social welfare minister, Diego Palacio.

Palacio, who flew over the island in a small plane Saturday, said several homes and a tourist foot bridge were damaged, but there appeared to be little flooding and cars were driving in the streets.

Electricity and telephone grids were down, but a navy frigate with humanitarian supplies was to arrive later Saturday in Providencia, a former pirate outpost inhabited mostly by descendants of slaves who speak English as their first language.

Just before 1 p.m. (1800GMT), the hurricane center said Beta was about 85 miles (135 kilometers) east of the Nicaraguan coastal town of Puerto Cabezas, and was tracking west at about 5 mph (8 kph). Its maximum sustained winds were near 90 mph (145 kph).

Providencia would likely be battered into the afternoon as Beta moved toward the Nicaraguan coast. The storm surge could run as high as seven feet (2 meters) and up to 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain could fall on the island, the center said.

In Nicaragua, soldiers were helping to evacuate thousands of people. Strong winds and heavy rain on Friday began lashing Puerto Cabezas, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) northeast of Managua, where 32,000 residents were preparing to ride out the hurricane.

Forecasters warned of storm surges of up to 13 feet (4 meters) along the eastern coast of Nicaragua when the slow-moving storm makes landfall, with up to 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of rainfall across Central America.

Some 8,000 people in low-lying Nicaraguan coastal communities, mainly Indians, were evacuated to schools. A hospital evacuated patients, and residents lined up to buy supplies.

In Honduras, President Ricardo Maduro declared a maximum state of alert on Saturday as strong winds and intense rains from Beta began to batter the Atlantic coast. Authorities evacuated more than 50 people due to flooding in Gracias a Dios, in northeastern Honduras on the border with Nicaragua.

Beta was the 13th hurricane this year, more than any Atlantic season on record. This season has also seen 23 named storms, more than at any point since record-keeping began in 1851. The previous record of 21 was set in 1933. Last week Tropical Storm Alpha formed, the first time a letter from the Greek alphabet has been used because the list of storm names was exhaustedб reported AP.