Managua — Tropical Storm Nate formed off the coast of Nicaragua on Thursday and was being blamed for seven deaths in Central America as it spun north toward a potential landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend.
The U.S. National Hurricane Centre said the storm could cause dangerous flooding by dumping as much as 15 to 20 inches (38 to 50 centimetres) of rain on Nicaragua, with higher accumulations in a few places.
It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 km/h) at midday Thursday and was likely to strengthen over the northwestern Caribbean Sea Thursday night and Friday.
The storm was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometres) northwest of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, and was moving northwest near 9 mph (15 km/h).
Nate was fueling heavy rains across much of a region already soaked by torrential rains.
In Nicaragua, its arrival followed two weeks of near constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen. Authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of flooding and landslides.
Nicaragua's vice president and spokesperson, Rosario Murillo, said that two women and a man who worked for the Health Ministry were swept away by a flooded canal in the central municipality of Juigalpa while working to aid the community.
Two other men drowned — one in the Carazo area south of Managua and the other in the Coco river near the border with Honduras. The government closed schools along the Caribbean coast.
Costa Rica's President Luis Guillermo Solis blamed two deaths in that country on the storm. Flooding drove 5 000 residents into emergency shelters.
The forecast track showed the storm could brush across the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula late Friday night and then hit the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane by Sunday morning. Forecasters said hurricane conditions were possible in Mexico Friday night.
In the Pacific, former Tropical Storm Ramon dissipated off the southwestern coast of Mexico.