Hurricane Otto – Costa Rica declares national emergency as storm heads for coast


Thousands ordered to evacuate in Nicaragua and Costa Rica after storm strengthens over the Caribbean

Costa Rica’s president has declared a state of emergency and thousands have been evacuated from its Caribbean coast as hurricane Otto strengthened and began heading towards land.

Luis Guillermo Solís urged vehicles off the roads and said hospitals in the most at-risk areas had suspended elective surgeries and were transferring patients elsewhere.

The unusually late-season storm is heading towards neighbouring Nicaragua, which closed schools and was evacuating more than 10,000 people from communities in the storm’s path. Heavy rains were expected to affect the entire country on Thursday and Friday, raising the possibility of flooding and landslides in the interior.

The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said Otto was a category one hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140km/h (85mph) and was moving west at a speed of 15km/h (9mph). On Wednesday night, the storm was 160km (100 miles) north-northeast of Limon, Costa Rica.

It is forecast to make landfall on Thursday in Nicaragua, just north of the Costa Rican border.

Costa Rica’s National Emergency Commission said it was evacuating 4,000 people from the area where the storm was expected to hit and where rivers could overflow. The effort was expected to involve evacuations by plane, boat and road in the low-lying coastal areas. School was called off nationwide for the rest of the week.

Heavy rain was already causing flooding in some areas and the president announced that public employees would not have to work Thursday or Friday.

The country’s National Meteorological Institute noted that a hurricane had never made landfall in Costa Rica since records began.

Heavy rains from the storm have been blamed for three deaths in Panama so far.

Jose Donderis, Panama’s civil defense director, said a landslide just west of Panama city early on Tuesday trapped nine people. Seven were rescued but two bodies were pulled from the mud. In the capital, a child was killed when a tree fell on a car outside a school.

Panamanian authorities have released water from the locks and lakes feeding the Panama Canal.

Costa Rica’s president said Otto could damage the country’s important coffee and agriculture sectors. Nicaragua also feared Otto could threaten coffee crops that are almost ready for harvest, placing further pressure on impoverished farmers.

Jennifer Zapata, a regional director for Heifer International, a US-based anti-poverty group, said Otto “could seriously jeopardize food security for small-holder farmers who rely on maize, beans, cocoa, honey, coffee and livestock for their livelihoods”.

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