A fierce hurricane and a powerful offshore earthquake struck Central America at the same time, triggering emergency responses in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica, and prayers among fearful populations.
Hurricane Otto, a storm packing winds of 175 kilometres (110 miles) per hour hit first, ploughing into Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.
Communities in that zone and in northern neighbouring Costa Rica were on Wednesday evacuated ahead of it. There were no immediate reports of any deaths.
Just an hour later came the earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.0 and located 120 kilometres off El Salvador in the Pacific Ocean, on the other side of the Central American isthmus. It was felt also in Nicaragua’s capital Managua and in Costa Rica.
While there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties from the temblor, El Salvador and Nicaragua issued a tsunami alert for their Pacific coasts, and El Salvador ordered all people in the zone to evacuate.
7.2 earthquake, 154km SSW of Puerto El Triunfo, El Salvador. 2016-11-24 12:43:51 at epicenter (8m ago, depth 33km). https://t.co/4YR9npwoi3— Earthquakes Tsunamis (@NewEarthquake) November 24, 2016
The double whammy was a dire test for a largely poor region generally lacking resources and preparedness for major disasters.
Faced with a hurricane and possible tsunami, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on Thursday declared a national emergency—a step Costa Rica had already taken ahead of Hurricane Otto.
The storm was expected to chew its way along a broad swath of territory on both sides of the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border into Friday, losing strength as it went.
But the US National Hurricane Center warned Otto’s trailing rains “will likely result in life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.”
Earlier this week, the outer bands of the storm caused the deaths of four people in Panama.The hurricane came ashore Thursday near San Juan de Nicaragua, also known as Greytown, south of the city of Bluefields and close to the Costa Rican border.
“The wind is very strong and it’s raining a lot,” a local resident, Aldrick Beckford, told AFP by telephone. “We just saw neighbours’ roofs collapse.”
A reporter for Nicaraguan state television in San Juan de Nicaragua described a “difficult” situation with brutal gusts. “There are cables fallen, trees brought down,” he told Channel 4 television.
The wind lifted off the roof of the town hall, which had been operating as an emergency coordination center.