Hurricane Beta swirled onto Nicaragua's central Caribbean coast Sunday, ripping off roofs, toppling trees and flooding low-lying neighborhoods before weakening to a tropical storm. Heavy rain in Honduras caused four rivers to overflow and damaged farm crops.
No deaths or injuries were immediately reported, but officials said about 10 people were believed missing after trying to escape the storm by boat.
Beta came ashore near the remote town of Sandy Bay Sirpi, 200 miles northeast of Managua, the capital, as a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
By midafternoon, it had weakened to a tropical storm with 65 mph winds as it moved inland, dumping up to 15 inches of rain. Beta was expected to weaken to a tropical depression overnight.
While powerful, Beta was a small storm, with its initial hurricane-force winds extending outward only about 15 miles, the hurricane center said. At 4 p.m. EST, it was about 65 miles northwest of the coastal town of Bluefields, moving west at 7 mph.
Forecasters had predicted Saturday that the storm would hit the far northeastern region of Nicaragua, prompting officials to evacuate thousands of people from the port of Cabo Gracias a Dios and along the River Coco, both on the Honduran border.
But early Sunday, the record 13th hurricane of this year's Atlantic storm season took an unexpected turn south and headed for Nicaragua's central coast.
Jack Howard, mayor of the central coastal town of Laguna de Perlas, told local television that 700 people were trapped in Tasbapauni, a town separated from the mainland by a lagoon.
Nicaragua's army chief, Gen. Omar Halleslevens, told reporters in Managua that Beta had destroyed or damaged some houses, ripped off building roofs, knocked down trees and caused some flooding. He said it also damaged at least one pier.
"No one was injured, no one was killed, thank God," President Enrique Bolanos said. "We are prepared from coast to coast."
However, Gustavo Ramos, mayor of the coastal city of Puerto Cabezas, said there were worries concerning about 10 people who were reported missing near his town after their boat disappeared while they tried to escape Beta.
Education Minister Miguel Angel Garcia suggested that people in low-lying areas take refuge in schools until the storm had completely passed. Classes remained suspended until further notice.
In Honduras, authorities evacuated more than 7,800 people Sunday from 50 communities north of the Nicaraguan border after four rivers overflowed from four inches of rain brought by Beta.
Strong winds knocked down signs, fences, trees, and electricity and telephone poles, cutting off power and communication in hundreds of communities, said the country's disaster response chief, Hugo Arevalo. At least two highways were blocked, he said.
The Honduran government set up shelters at schools and state buildings, while the national soccer league suspended all its games. The airports at La Ceiba and Roatan on the coast were operating sporadically because of poor visibility, strong winds and flooding.