Hurricane Joan pummeled Nicaragua and Costa Rica with winds of up to 135 mph Saturday, flattening houses, flooding rivers and devastating several towns.
At least 31 people were reported dead, 155 missing and thousands homeless, but stubborn residents in flood-prone Managua refused to heed warnings to evacuate their homes.Joan, earlier Saturday downgraded to a tropical storm, swept into Managua after dark, knocking down trees and power lines and flooding roads. Authorities in the city of 1.5 million imposed a curfew and the same emergency civil defense plan reserved for a U.S. military strike against the capital.
President Daniel Ortega ordered the evacuation of at least 80,000 people from flood-prone areas in the capital, pleading in a nationwide radio broadcast "material goods can be replaced but life cannot be replaced."
But some residents, unaccustomed to the ferocity of such storms, refused to abandon their homes and possessions.
"I do not want to leave my house; I am all right here and if I have to die, will die in my house," said Ramona Melendez, a resident of the city's low-lying La Tejera district on the banks of Lake Managua.
"This is all we have, I'm worried about leaving it unprotected," said Nubia Gutierrez, 36, as she ignored a transistor radio playing in her rickety two-room shack and blaring warnings for people to evacuate. "We're hoping God will watch out for us."
There was no immediate estimate of how many of the 80,000 residents, ordered to evacuate their homes because they lived in rickety housing or flood-prone areas, had complied with the orders.
Joan slammed into Nicaragua's Corn Island at the peak of its 135-mph fury early Saturday and then into the Caribbean port of Bluefields before advancing west on Managua. Though its winds subsided steadily after landfall, the storm dumped torrential rains that were expected to cause massive flooding and mud slides in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said that at 10 p.m. MDT the center of Joan was near latitude 12.0 north and longitude 86.0 west, "very near" Managua. Maximum sustained winds had diminished to about 40 mph and Joan continued moving west at about 9 mph.
If Atlantic-spawned Joan retains tropical-storm strength when it reaches the other side of the Central American isthmus, it will be renamed Miriam as a Pacific storm.
Joan has killed at least 69 people since lashing Colombia Oct. 16.