Tropical Storm Nate batters Central America; could strengthen to hurricane Friday

Tropical Storm Nate’s five-day track as of 7 p.m. Cayman Islands time Thursday.

As Tropical Storm Nate continued its northwest trajectory toward the Gulf Coast on Thursday, reports of death and devastation began to emerge from Central America.

At least 22 people were confirmed dead, many from widespread flooding and mudslides in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Residents in parts of the Louisiana coast east of New Orleans were ordered to evacuate in anticipation of the storm’s arrival this weekend. A voluntary evacuation was announced for Louisiana’s barrier island community of Grand Isle.

The storm remained inland Thursday over eastern Nicaragua and Honduras. It was not forecast to reach hurricane strength until late Friday, after the system passes over Mexico and returns to warm Caribbean waters.

The system is not forecast to hit the Cayman Islands. Cloudiness and showers associated with the storm, however, are expected to affect the islands. One to two inches of rain are forecast for the Cayman Islands and Jamaica through Saturday. Radar images show scattered showers moving north from the south and east of Cayman, the National Weather Service reported. Flooding could occur in low-lying areas. Small craft in open waters should exercise caution.

Much of Central America, from Costa Rica to the Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba remained under alert.

The center of the storm passed over northeastern Nicaragua and eastern Honduras Thursday afternoon and continued to move north toward the Yucatan Peninsula. Maximum sustained winds were 40 mph.

The storm continued to pick up speed, moving 9 mph northwest. The system was expected to turn north-northwest at a faster rate late Thursday and continue on the trajectory through Friday night. The system could become a hurricane by Friday.

Residents of Honduras, the Bay Islands, western Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula were advised to closely monitor the progress of the storm.

Nate was expected to reach its closest point to Grand Cayman Friday morning, at some 275 miles southwest of the island. As of Thursday, Cayman was no longer projected to fall within the path of tropical storm-force winds.

Areas around the northwestern Caribbean were expected to experience rough seas later this week. Swells will likely generate life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

A Tropical Storm Warning remained in effect from Sandy Bay Sirpi, Nicaragua, to Punta Castilla, Honduras. A Hurricane Watch was in effect for Punta Herrero to Rio Lagartos, Mexico.

Reports Thursday afternoon from Nicaragua, where the tropical storm made landfall Thursday, indicated at least five deaths from the storm. Areas of the country continued to fall under yellow alert, as floods and strong currents threatened residents.

Nicaragua was expected to receive 15 to 20 inches of rain, with up to 30 inches in isolated areas.

Costa Rican press reported seven deaths Thursday from heavy rains, mudslides and falling trees. Fifteen people were reported missing in Costa Rica.

Southern Honduras and western Nicaragua were anticipating 6 to 10 inches of rain with isolated rainfall up to 20 inches.

Heavy rains are expected over a wide area of the Pacific Coast and Central America, reaching far from the center of the storm. Flash floods and mudslides could threaten much of the region.

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