Hurricane Joan resumed its deadly trek westward toward Central America with 110-mph winds Friday after heavy rains pounded Venezuela and pushed the storm's death toll to at least 26.
Costa Rica joined Nicaragua in declaring a national emergency. The storm threatens "devastation and death," said Manuel Obando, president of Costa Rica's National Emergency Committee.Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla., said: "There is going to be considerable loss of life . . . assuming it moves that way and assuming those heavy rains will hit there with mudslides."
The rains unleashed mudslides Wednesday and Thursday that swallowed wooden huts and left at least
11 people dead in the poorest neighborhoods of Caracas, Venezuela.
The storm killed 15 people in Colombia, injured 50, and left tens of thousands homeless when it swept the Guajira peninsula on Monday.
A mudslide blocked the Pan-American Highway in Panama 100 miles from the Costa Rican border, authorities said Friday. They said a pile of mud more than 15 feet high dislodged by heavy rains before the storm brought traffic to a standstill. Heavy rain continued to fall in Panama.
More than 37,000 people fled coastal areas of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which declared a hurricane watch. Hurricane warnings were in effect for the Colombian islands of San Andres and neighboring Albuquerque and Providencia.
"It's better to leave before we get killed," said Teresa Wilson, who toted a plastic bag stuffed with clothes and fled the Nicaraguan coastal village of Bluff with her seven children.
The Nicaraguan government appealed to the international community to be prepared to lend assistance.
At noon MDT, Joan's center was about 60 miles south of San Andres and about 150 miles east of Bluefields, Nicaragua.
After stalling Thursday, the hurricane resumed its drift westward and was expected to continue slowly in that direction Friday. Maximum sustained winds were 110 mph.
Nicaraguan officials worried about the readiness of government agencies, relief organizations and coastal residents, some of whom live in wooden homes on stilts.
About 7,000 people fled Nicaragua's remote Miskito Coast and two small islands by boat, and schools were closed nationwide.
Hundreds of people arrived by boat Thursday afternoon in Rama, 180 miles east of the capital, and were taken by military and civilian trucks to a school in the provincial capital of Juigalpa, 85 miles east of Managua.
"We decided to bring our children and to leave our husbands to guard our homes," said Johnny Hunter, a 29-year-old Bluefields woman.
President Daniel Ortega enacted an emergency law banning communications media from reporting unauthorized news about Joan.
The opposition daily La Prensa called the decree absurd and illegal and said the law made it "legally impossible to report on the hurricane."
In Costa Rica, the National Emergency Council said at least 30,000 people were evacuated from Puerto Limon, a town of 20,000 about 100 miles southeast of the capital of San Jose, and 14 other towns along the northeast coast.
Education Minister Francisco Pacheco said schools and universities throughout the country were closed until the storm was over.
Costa Rican officials feared Joan could destroy many of the 20,000 banana plantations along the coast.
Officials said Costa Rica has never been hit by a hurricane in recorded history, and the last one that hit Nicaragua was in 1911.