Officials evacuated hundreds of tourists and residents from the Colombian island of San Andres as Tropical Storm Beta appeared on track to become the 13th hurricane of the already record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season of a total 23 named storms.
Officials used clergy to convince people to leave San Andres, an island that sits 110 miles (177 kms) off Nicaragua's coast, and which lies almost directly in the storm's projected path.
Beta is expected to continue on and hit mainland Nicaragua as a strong Category 2 hurricane by Sunday.
About 500 tourists and 200 poor people living in shacks on the southern beaches of San Andres were moved Thursday to one of a dozen shelters set up by the government. The tourists gladly left their hotels, but residents sometimes needed to be coaxed.
"The emergency workers went door to door with priests and nuns because of lot of the residents didn't want to leave and needed reassuring from the (Catholic) church ... which definitely helped," said San Andres police chief Col. Carlos Mena.
San Andres is a far-flung possession of Colombia, whose coast is 450 miles (720 kms) away. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe voiced concern for the island's 80,000 residents.
"San Andres has no flood drains, so we're definitely going to have a tough time removing the excess water by way of the normal sewage system," Uribe told reporters in Bogota, the capital.
Beta had winds of 60 mph (96 kph) and by late Thursday it was located about 50 miles (85 kms) south-southeast of San Andres, and about 160 miles (255 kms) east of Bluefields, the nearest point on the Nicaraguan coast.
Beta was moving north at about 3 mph (6 kph), but was expected to take a slow turn to the northwest.
That track "should bring the center of Beta near San Andres late tonight or Friday," the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida reported.
Beta would be the first hurricane to hit the Colombian islands since Hurricane Cesar slammed into them in 1996, killing three people.
A Colombian air force plane flying from the mainland dropped off 8 tons of food and other emergency aid in San Andres, including 300 hammocks, 1,100 sheets and 350 kits for cooking.
In Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, President Enrique Bolanos called on emergency officials to begin preparing for the storm.
Richard Knabb, hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said it was not unusual to get storm activity toward the end of hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.
"It may not be over with Beta, but let's hope so," he said.
Beta is expected to dump up to 15 inches (40 centimeters) across western Panama, Costa Rica, northeastern Honduras and Nicaragua.
This year's Atlantic hurricane season has seen more named storms 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, which was the first time a letter from the Greek alphabet has been used because the list of storm names was exhausted, AP reported. V.A.
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