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article imageHurricane kills 9 in Costa Rica

By Oscar Nunez, with Julia Rios in Managua (AFP)     Nov 25, 2016 in Environment

A hurricane that churned its way across Central America before sweeping into the Pacific on Friday killed at least nine people in Costa Rica and caused millions of dollars in damage, officials said.

President Luis Guillermo Solis declared three days of mourning, starting Monday.

In neighboring Nicaragua, officials reported no casualties but dozens of homes were damaged in low-lying areas.

Hurricane Otto had sparked red alerts in both countries when it spun in from the Caribbean on Thursday with winds of up to 175 kilometers (110 miles) per hour.

It made landfall in southeastern Nicaragua, in an area with national reserves that is sparsely inhabited, before crossing into Costa Rica, losing strength as it went.

Central America suffered a hurricane and offshore earthquake at the same time on November 24  trigge...
Central America suffered a hurricane and offshore earthquake at the same time on November 24, triggering alarm in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica
Alfredo Zuniga, AFP/File

Early Friday it headed out into the Pacific Ocean as a downgraded tropical storm. It should continue to weaken, the US National Hurricane Center said.

A Costa Rican police official, Walter Espinoza, told a news conference: "The number of people killed is nine. We have recovered eight bodies, only one remains."

Solis said the storm dumped a month's worth of rain in just a few hours in Costa Rica. Authorities said it caused around $8 million in damage to roads.

Aerial television pictures from northern Costa Rica showed water and mud in several towns, and small bridges collapsed.

- Evacuations -

Police officers the Masacahapa seaside resort in the San Rafael del Sur municipality  Nicaragua patr...
Police officers the Masacahapa seaside resort in the San Rafael del Sur municipality, Nicaragua patrol the coast in case of tsunami alert on November 24, 2016
Alfredo Zuniga, AFP

Updating an earlier death toll of four, Espinoza said five of the nine people killed died in Upala, a town near the border with Nicaragua that found itself in the storm's path.

An Upala resident, Juan, told the Repretel channel he lost his son when rising waters tore away his home on a river bank.

The other four died in Bagaces, a town 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital San Jose.

In Nicaragua, the government's spokesperson, First Lady Rosario Murillo, said: "Up to now, thank God, we haven't counted any loss of human life."

Officials in both countries had evacuated the most at-risk areas before the hurricane hit, and closed schools and mobilized emergency crews.

Officials in Costa Rica said 5,500 people had been put up in shelters.

Nicaragua had 44 shelters operating for many of the 10,500 people who had been evacuated.

UN agencies and non-governmental organizations had supported the emergency response, the UN office coordinating humanitarian affairs said in a statement.

Early this week, as Otto gathered strength in the Caribbean, its outer bands of wind and rain contributed to the deaths of eight people in Panama, according to the national civil protection service.

On Thursday, at the same time as the hurricane struck, a 7.0 earthquake was registered on the other side of the Central American isthmus, 120 kilometers (75 miles) offshore in the Pacific Ocean.

Although the temblor prompted panicked residents in El Salvador's capital to run out of buildings, and briefly sparked tsunami alerts in El Salvador and Nicaragua, no damage was reported.

The sole casualty was in Nicaragua, where one person died of a heart attack.

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