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Beta hits island of Providencia

Beta expected to strengthen into hurricane

This satellite image taken Friday at 7:45 p.m. ET shows Beta forming into a hurricane.


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Caribbean Area

SAN ANDRES, Colombia (AP) -- Hundreds of villagers on a tiny Caribbean island hiked into the mountains Friday, fleeing a powerful tropical storm that engulfed Providencia in heavy winds and rain.

Tropical Storm Beta, packing winds of 65 mph, made a direct hit on the Manhattan-sized island. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm could build to hurricane strength sometime Saturday.

As the storm approached, the 5,000 people on the island prepared to ride it out. But about 300 of them along with a dozen tourists fled wooden homes along the coast for sturdier brick shelters in the highlands, officials said.

There were numerous reports of roof damage on the island, and storm surge of up to seven feet.

Providencia police officer Rodolfo Amador, in one of the shelters, told The Associated Press by telephone that the winds were bad, "but so far not extreme." The island has 5,000 residents.

Minutes later the fixed-line telephone system went dead on the island, which has no cellular service.

At 8 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered over Providencia and was traveling northwest at 5 mph, and expected to slam into Nicaragua, more than 100 miles away, by Sunday, the hurricane center said. It was not expected to hit the United States.

The storm was on track to become the 13th hurricane of the already record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season.

This year's Atlantic hurricane season has seen more named storms, 23, than at any point since record keeping began in 1851. The previous record of 21 was set in 1933.

Last week Tropical Storm Alpha formed, which was the first time a letter from the Greek alphabet has been used because the list of storm names was exhausted.

In the larger neighboring island of San Andres, also Colombian-owned, only the storm's outer bands touched the island, bringing just light rains and wind. After the island's police lifted a ban on outdoor activity, some tourists returned to the beaches and swam in the ocean.

The islands, popular with scuba divers, are far flung possessions of Colombia, which is about 450 miles to the southeast.

Hurricane Wilma, the most recent storm to hit the United States, has caused widespread outages and gasoline shortages across Florida; and the U.S. Gulf Coast is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina, which caused chaos and devastation in New Orleans and surrounding areas in August.

Nicaragua issued a hurricane warning for its entire Caribbean-side coast and was evacuating 5,000 people from the Caribbean coastline. The government sent troops to help the remote region prepare for the storm's expected arrival.

"We can't do anything about damage to property," said President Enrique Bolanos. "We will see about that afterward. The important thing is to save lives."

Classes were canceled, and businesses were warned against price gouging as the storm's outer bands of winds and rain began lashing the coastline.

Bolanos said the government was sending in food, medicine, clothing and other emergency supplies.

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