Tela: Tropical Storm Matthew belted Honduras with rain and wind as it churned across Central America early on Saturday, threatening floods and damage to coffee and sugar crops.
Rain soaked Honduran tourist resorts along the Atlantic coast and the storm headed toward the country's manufacturing city of San Pedro Sula, while poor indigenous communities were most at risk and authorities moved hundreds of people inland.
"With just a bit of rain here we get flooded, so we've stocked up with food so we don't have to go out," said Hernan Duran, a local resident of the tourist town of Tela who joined dozens of others buying provisions before heavy rains started.
Matthew, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, hit Nicaragua's Atlantic coast on Friday afternoon and is set to bring up to 10 inches of rain over the weekend.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo urged people in coastal and mountainous regions to go to shelters set up in schools and soccer stadiums. "We've got to take the necessary precautions, what we don't want is loss of human life," Lobo said in a national TV and radio address on Friday night.
This year's active hurricane season has already battered the region. More rain from Matthew could delay coffee and sugar harvests. Cane fields have been flooded and coffee trees risk disease and fungus from too much moisture.
Sugar losses could be serious because cane fields are still flooded from earlier rains in Honduras. Central America produced 4.43 million tonnes of sugar in the 2009/10 harvest and was hoping for a larger crop this year.
Matthew's rains, if they last for days, could start affecting coffee however, said exporters and producers.
Matthew, the 13th named storm of the 2010 Atlantic season, is expected to become a depression over Guatemala over the weekend, but could still cause life threatening mudslides.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch tore through Central America killing more than 11,000 people in devastating floods. It was the second most deadly storm on record.
More than 260 people have died in Guatemala so far this year in mudslides and flash floods.
Matthew is seen eventually dying out over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula next week, but could dump rain on oil-producing areas of the southern Gulf of Mexico, potentially forcing brief closures of Mexican ports.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Hurricane Lisa, the seventh of the season, had maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour, about 415 miles northwest of the Cape Verde Islands, but posed no immediate threat to land or oil assets.
First Published: Saturday, September 25, 2010, 16:30