Hurricane Julia gained more strengthin the southern Caribbean on Saturday as it bore down on the Colombian islands and Nicaragua. It could also bring heavy rainfall to Southern Mexico early next week.
Julia was upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane Saturday night, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported. The storm was centered about 55 miles east of Columbia’s Providencia Island, and 175 miles east of Bluefields, Nicaragua. It was moving west at 17 mph.
A storm is defined as a hurricane when its maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Julia was forecast to pass near or over Colombia’s San Andres and Providencia islands Saturday night on its way to landfall in Nicaragua on Sunday morning.
Julia could bring “life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” to several Central American countries and Southern Mexico, the NHC said in an advisory.
The storm’s remnants were forecast to sweep across Nicaragua and then skirt by the Pacific coasts of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala through Monday, a region already saturated by weeks of heavy rains.
Forecasters said a greater threat than Julia’s winds were rains of 5 to 10 inches — up to 15 inches in isolated areas — that the storm was expected to dump across Central America.
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico could see anywhere from 2 to 6 inches of rain early next week, the NHC said.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro declared a “maximum alert” on the islands and asked hotels to prepare space to shelter the vulnerable population. Officials on San Andres imposed a curfew for residents at 6 a.m. Saturday to limit people in the streets. Air operations to the islands were suspended.
Similar precautions were underway in the central area of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, where authorities issued an alert for all types of vessels to seek safe harbor.
Nicaraguan soldiers began preparing the evacuation of inhabitants of islands and cays around the town of Sandy Bay Sirpi. The army said it delivered humanitarian supplies to the municipalities of Bluefields and Laguna de Perlas for distribution to 118 temporary shelters.
In Guatemala, officials said Julia could drench 10 departments in the east, center and west of the country — an area that has been most affected by this rainy season and where the poorest people are concentrated.
From May to September, storms have caused 49 confirmed deaths and six people are missing. Roads and hundreds of homes have been damaged, Guatemalan officials say.
In El Salvador, where 19 people have died this rainy season, the worst rainfall is expected Monday and Tuesday, said Fernando López, the minister of environmental and natural resources. Officials said they had opened 61 shelters with the capacity to house more than 3,000 people.