Hurricane Julia bears down on Central America, could bring heavy rain, flooding

Hurricane Julia closed in on Nicaragua’s central Caribbean coast late Saturday after lashing Colombia’s San Andres island in a near pass soon after strengthening from a tropical storm in the afternoon. It could also bring heavy rainfall to Southern Mexico early next week, forecasters said. 

Julia was upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane Saturday night, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported. A storm is defined as a hurricane when its maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, according to the National Weather Service.   

As of late Saturday night, the storm was centered about 65 miles west of Columbia’s San Andres Island, and 80 miles northeast of Bluefields, Nicaragua. It was moving west at 16 mph.

There were no early reports on what effects the storm had in San Andres. The NCH said in an advisory that Julia could bring “life-threatening flash floods and mudslides from heavy rains” to several Central American countries and Southern Mexico.   

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Julia was expected to make landfall in Nicaragua by the early morning hours Sunday, the NHC forecasted. It would move across Nicaragua Sunday, and then reach the Pacific coasts of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala on Monday, the NHC said. It’s a region already saturated by weeks of heavy rains.

The NCH reported that Julia could dump anywhere from 5 to 15 inches of rain on Nicaragua. The rest of Central America could see anywhere from 4 to 12 inches. 

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico could receive between 2 and 6 inches of rain early next week, the NHC said, and flash flooding is possible. 

Colombian President Gustavo Petro had declared a “maximum alert” on San Andres as well as Providencia islands to the north and asked hotels to prepare space to shelter the vulnerable population. Officials on San Andres imposed a curfew for residents at 6 a.m. Saturday to limit people in the streets. Air operations to the islands were suspended.

Nicaraguan authorities issued an alert for all types of vessels to seek safe harbor as the hurricane followed a general path toward the area of Bluefields and Laguna de Perlas.

Guillermo González, director of Nicaragua’s Disaster Response System, told official media that people at high risk had been evacuated from coastal areas by noon Saturday. The army said it delivered humanitarian supplies to Bluefields and Laguna de Perlas for distribution to 118 temporary shelters.

In Bluefields, however, life appeared little changed Saturday night, and people expressed reluctance to leave their homes.

In Guatemala, officials said Julia could drench 10 departments in the east, center and west of the country — an area that has been most affected by this rainy season and where the poorest people are concentrated.

From May to September, storms have caused 49 confirmed deaths and six people are missing. Roads and hundreds of homes have been damaged, Guatemalan officials say.

In El Salvador, where 19 people have died this rainy season, the worst rainfall is expected Monday and Tuesday, said Fernando López, the minister of environmental and natural resources. Officials said they had opened 61 shelters with the capacity to house more than 3,000 people. 

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