MANAGUA, Nicaragua — After leaving at least 45 people dead in Colombia and Venezuela, Hurricane Joan sent thousands of people fleeing for safety Thursday as it inched toward Central America's eastern coastline with heavy rains and 105-m.p.h. winds.
Clinging stubbornly to a due-westerly course far south of the Caribbean's traditional storm paths, the hurricane forced authorities in Nicaragua and Costa Rica to close schools and hospitals in preparation for rare national emergencies. The storm was expected to strike their coasts Saturday after passing over Colombia's San Andres islands, according to forecasters here.
A total of 34 people were killed and at least 50,000 left homeless when the storm swept Colombia's Guajira Peninsula on Tuesday, according to the Colombian Red Cross.
In Caracas, Venezuela, mudslides and downpours in the hurricane's wake engulfed wooden huts built precariously on cliffs, killing 11 people Wednesday night and early Thursday.
By nightfall, the storm's center was 260 miles east-southeast of Bluefields, a Nicaraguan fishing port of 30,000 people, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami reported. After slowing to a near-stationary position, its winds weakened slightly, but forecasters said they expected the hurricane to resume a slow westward motion during the night.
The Nicaraguan government said it evacuated 5,000 to 6,000 women, children and elderly people by boat from the Bluefields area and two offshore islands to shelters in the inland river port of Rama.
In Costa Rica, authorities said they were moving about 33,000 people from the provincial coastal capital of Puerto Limon and 14 smaller towns.
Other residents of Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas were moved from flimsy wood-slat homes into the sturdiest buildings in both towns while police patrolled to prevent looting.
Costa Rican officials say their country has never been hit by a hurricane in recorded history.