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Felix kills 18 in Nicaragua before quieting

Thu., Sept. 6, 2007, midnight

MEXICO CITY – Hurricane Felix killed at least 18 people and damaged thousands of homes as it passed through the remote Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. But the storm failed to produce the massive flooding many feared in neighboring Honduras, officials said Wednesday.

Little more than a day after it came ashore as a Category 5 hurricane, Felix was downgraded to a tropical depression. In the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, where 300,000 people were evacuated from low-lying areas, the rain stopped, and life returned to normal.

On Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, where a second hurricane struck land less than nine hours after Felix, officials were breathing a sigh of relief. The eye of Hurricane Henriette made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane just six miles from the center of San Jose del Cabo, but damage to the region’s tourist industry was minimal, officials said.

“Everything is in good shape, and we are ready to begin receiving tourists,” said Alberto Trevino, tourism secretary for Baja California Sur state. Most hotels would reopen by Friday, he said.

Trevino said Baja California Sur would seek federal disaster funds – but only to pay for a publicity campaign to reassure foreign tourists that the hurricane left little damage.

Mexican officials said a 69-year-old woman who died in Cabo San Lucas on Tuesday morning, just hours before the hurricane’s arrival, was the victim of a drowning accident, not the storm.

Henriette remained a Category 1 storm, with winds reaching 75 mph, as it crossed the Gulf of California and entered lightly populated marshlands in the state of Sonora on Wednesday afternoon. It was expected to dump 3 to 6 inches of rain on the region. Henriette was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved inland and its sustained winds dropped to 65 mph.

In Baja California Sur state, authorities said the most serious damage caused by the storm as it passed was in rural communities south of La Paz, the state capital. The highway linking the communities to La Paz was cut, and several arroyos in the region flooded. But most residents had been evacuated ahead of the storm, officials said.

There also was damage to the roads that link Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo to the rest of the Baja peninsula, official said.

Felix produced its most severe damage in the Nicaraguan coastal town of Puerto Cabezas, where is struck with 165 mph winds. Roughly 90 percent of structures were damaged, officials said. The town’s pier was almost completely destroyed.

The death toll could increase. Civil defense officials said dozens of people were missing.


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