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Tropical Storm Otto enters Pacific after devastation, 9 dead in Costa Rica

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Workers cut a tree that fell and killed a boy outside a school in Panama City today. Civil defense officials in Panama said the country has already seen three deaths blamed on late-season Tropical Storm Otto.

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica » Tropical Storm Otto killed at least nine people in Costa Rica and then headed into the Pacific Ocean today after making landfall as the southernmost hurricane on record to hit Central America.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis announced that nine people had been killed in the area of Bagaces and Upala, a town south of the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. Earlier, he said at least six people were missing in the nearby town of Bijagua.

Solis said as much water fell on the area in a few hours as normally falls in a month, and said some people had been trapped by rising waters.

The United States sent airplanes and neighboring Panama sent planes and helicopters to aid in the search and rescue efforts in the area, where rain-swollen rivers overflowed their banks.

Otto made landfall on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast on Thursday as a dangerous Category 2 storm but it faded to tropical storm force before emerging over the eastern Pacific early today.

Authorities in Nicaragua said the hurricane had damaged houses, but so far there were no reports of casualties. Earlier, heavy rains from the storm were blamed for three deaths in Panama.

Otto battered Nicaragua’s Corn Islands with 10-foot waves and damaged houses, but residents were all safe in refuges, said the archipelago’s mayor, Cleveland Rolando Webster.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said that by this morning, the storm was centered about 245 miles south-southeast of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, and had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. It was moving toward the west at 16 mph. It was projected to keep moving westward away from Central America, further into Pacific.

The Nicaraguan government earlier declared a state of emergency, and said evacuations would continue because of the continued risk of flooding. Schools were closed.

Officials in Costa Rica evacuated 2,500 people before the hurricane hit and called off school nationwide for the rest of the week.

Solis said Otto could damage the country’s important coffee and agriculture sectors. Nicaragua also feared damage to coffee crops that are almost ready for harvest.

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