By Diego Mendez
Puerto La Libertad, El Salvador - Hurricane Adrian steamed toward El Salvador's coast, cutting off power and forcing officials to close schools and evacuate some 14 000 people during the first recorded Pacific hurricane to strike the country.
El Salvador declared an emergency as the unusual hurricane, the eastern Pacific's first named tropical storm of the season, washed out roads and unleashed heavy rains that forecasters said could cause devastating flooding.
Adrian was swirling just off the Salvadoran coast on Thursday night, west of Puerto La Libertad, the beach resort and seafood centre close to El Salvador's capital, San Salvador.
Streets in La Libertad were deserted as people sought refuge in their homes after power went out, rains sprayed across an increasingly agitated surf and waves pounded the pier.
The US State Department warned the hurricane is "expected to cause severe flooding," and urged US residents and tourists in Central America to closely watch the storm's movement.
Salvadoran President Tony Saca broadcast an appeal for his citizens to obey evacuation requests.
"We understand that they are guarding their belongings, but lives are worth more than anything," he told Radio La Chevere.
In La Libertad, 40-year-old seafood vendor Marco Antonio Hernandez said "you can feel the concern, because we have never had anything like this."
Authorities evacuated about 14 000 people from low-lying coastal areas. Rivers rose in El Salvador and in neighboring Honduras, both nations devastated by Hurricane Mitch - a Caribbean storm - in 1998.
The rains began to wash out some roads in both countries, officials reported.
Already one death was indirectly linked to the storm: a military pilot died on Wednesday when he crashed a small plane that he was ferrying from San Salvador's civilian airport to a military base as a precaution against the heavy winds. Officials did not give the cause of the accident.
In neighboring Guatemala, two workers were killed in the collapse of a ditch they were digging in the village of Caxaque, 260km west of Guatemala City, as a light rain fell there. But local firefighters said it was unclear whether the collapse was related to the rains.
The US National Hurricane Centre reported Adrian had maximum sustained winds of almost 130km per hour and higher gusts, and was moving toward the north-east at about 14km per hour.
Guatemalan officials downgraded storm warnings, but El Salvador's government decreed a state of emergency for the whole, small country. Many schools and offices were closed on Thursday and some stores were crowded with people stocking up on water and food.
The region, where many people live in shacks clinging to sharp ravines, is particularly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Mitch, arriving from the Caribbean, killed at least 9 000 people in Central America.
Adrian is also a very unusual hurricane.
While some Atlantic storms, such as Mitch, have entered El Salvador after being sharply weakened by passing over Honduras, no other hurricane in modern records has hit El Salvador directly, according to Antonio Arenas, director of El Salvador's National Service of Territorial Studies, which monitors weather.
Meteorologist Colin McAdie of the US Hurricane Centre also said there was no record of another hurricane landing in El Salvador or Guatemala's Pacific coast since the centre's records began in 1949.
Most Pacific storms spawned off the Central American coast head toward the north-west, roughly parallel to the coastline and then edge out to sea or veer inland farther north, to Mexico.
The Hurricane Centre said the hurricane would probably weaken rapidly once it hits shore and then dissipate. But there was some chance the storm could survive a passage across Central America and emerge as a tropical depression that would head across drought-parched Cuba and toward the Bahamas. - Sapa-AP
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