Felix weakens to tropical storm

Felix, which slammed into northeastern Nicaragua as a Category 5 hurricane, steadily weakened over the hours Tuesday into a tropical storm.

Forecasters still fear mudslides in Honduras, Guatemala shantytowns

Felix, which slammed into northeastern Nicaragua as a Category 5 hurricane, steadily weakened over the hours Tuesday into a tropical storm.

The storm calmed down by nightfall after pounding Nicaragua at full strength earlier in the day,marking the first timein recorded historythat two top-scale stormshave touched landin the same season.

Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Centerlabelled Felix a Category 5 hurricane when it landed in the early morning, bringinggusts of up to 260 km/h that peeled roofs off several homes anda police station, and knocked down electric poles. The stormlost some of its strength a few hours later as it moved inland, withwinds dropping to 195 km/h, and then was downgraded to a Category 3.

Felix was eventually downgraded to a tropical storm, with top winds of 97 km/h shortly after nightfall.

Still,worries persisted among forecasters that the storm would trigger mudslidesif itbarrelled through Honduras and Guatemala. Felix is expected todump up to 64 centimetres of rain onhillside shantytowns in the Honduras capital ofTegucigalapa, as well as GuatemalaCity, the capital of Guatemala.

Felix comes on the heels of Hurricane Dean, another Category 5 storm that tore across the Caribbean and parts of Mexico at the end of August, killing at least 20 people.

Elsewhere, Henriette became a Category 1 hurricane as itmade landfallon the Baja California peninsula. The storm killed six people in western Mexico before pushing out over the Pacific Ocean on Sunday.

Tourists and residents at the popular resort area awoke Tuesday to dangerous winds, closed airports and forecasts of a direct hit. At its worst, Henriette's winds blew at 137 km/h, and it was making its way towards Mexico's northern deserts.

The Mexican government declared a state of emergency in southern Baja California. In Ottawa, the governmentrecommended Canadians avoid non-essential travel to the southern end of the peninsula.

Meanwhile, in a phone interview earlier Tuesday fromURACCAN Universityin the northeastern Nicaraguan town of Bilwi, vice-principal Albert St. Clair described the scene where he and about 100 others had sought refuge from Felix.

"Where I am right now, there's a lot of trees falling down, a lot of roofs in the air. It's raining and the wind is coming very strong, very, very strong,"St. Clairtold CBC News.

"The place where I am right now, the roof is just about to fall out."

Saffir-Simpson scale: Category 5

  • Winds greater than 249 km/h.
  • All shrubs, trees and signs blown down.
  • Complete destruction of mobile homes.
  • Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings, some with small utility buildings blown over or away.
  • Massive evacuation of low-lying residential areas withineight to 16 kilometres of the shoreline may be required.
  • Storm surge thatcan elevate sea levels up to5.5 metres above normal tide levels.

Source: U.S. National Hurricane Center

In Nicaragua, more than 14,000 peoplewere evacuated from their homes before Felix's arrival, while others refused to leave. At least2,000 people, including as many as 700 tourists, fled Honduras's coastal and island resorts.

About 1,000 people were taken off the island of Roatan early Tuesday, including 19 Americans evacuated by a helicopter sent from the Soto Cano Air Base on mainland Honduras.

The massive storm descended Tuesday morning on remote indigenouscommunitiesontheNicaragua-Honduras border, where thousands of Miskito Indians were stranded late Monday.

Relief organization CARE said Tuesdayit will need $2 million US over the next three months to providefood, sanitation and shelterto 23,000 people affected by Felix.

Felix's landfall marks the first time since 1886, when record keeping began, that two Category 5 hurricanes have hit land in a season,according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Only 31 such storms have been recorded in the Atlantic, including eight in the last five seasons.

As a Category 2 storm on Sunday, Felix toppled trees and caused flooding inAruba, Curacao and Bonaire. Thousands of tourists huddled in hotels when power to several communities was cut.

With files from the Associated Press