A tropical storm in the Caribbean was expected to become a full-on hurricane, with its rainy fringe already causing three deaths in Panama and prompting coastal evacuations in Costa Rica, as it made its way through Central America.
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Tropical Storm Otto, packing sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, was some 250 miles offshore and moving very slowly, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin.
It was expected to build into a hurricane with winds of over 74 miles per hour later Tuesday and make landfall in Costa Rica and Nicaragua Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Its rains "will likely result in life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," while "life-threatening surf and rip current conditions" will be experienced along the coasts of Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the U.S. center warned.
In Panama, three people died from a mudslide and a falling tree provoked by the first outer dump of Otto's heavy rains, the head of the National Civil Protection Service, Jose Donderis, told AFP.
Nine people were caught in the mudslide that occurred west of the capital. "Seven were rescued and unfortunately two deceased people were recovered," he said.
The other death was that of a boy, who was hit by a tree that fell on the car he was in as he waited with his mother outside his school in the capital, Donderis said. The mother survived.
Neighboring Costa Rica ordered the evacuation of more than 4,000 people Tuesday along the sparsely inhabited northern part of its Caribbean coast to avoid fatalities.
"We will not allow people to remain in at-risk areas and risk loss of human life," President Luis Guillermo Solis told a news conference.
The order did not extend to Costa Rica's principal port city of Limon on the southern Caribbean coast. The city, home to around 60,000 people, mostly of African descent, is projected to feel the glancing force of the hurricane Wednesday.
Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America, has issued a national alert and ordered coastal authorities to prepare evacuation plans and mobilize emergency teams. The storm was expected to pass through the capital of Managua Thursday.
According to forecasts, Otto was to cut across the narrow Central American isthmus, losing much of its strength as it went, before exiting out into the Pacific Ocean Friday.
A previous hurricane, Matthew, devastated parts of southern Haiti in October, killing 546 people and leaving nearly 175,000 homeless.