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Hurricane Julia makes landfall on Nicaraguan coast

BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua — Hurricane Julia touched down on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast early Sunday morning, the US National Hurricane Center said, carrying with it the threat of flash flooding and mudslides across Central America.

Maximum sustained winds were estimated at 85 miles per hour (140 kph) when the storm made landfall near the Laguna de Perlas area at 0715 GMT, the weather agency said.

Hours earlier in Bluefields, one of the main coastal towns expected to be buffeted by the storm, fishermen were busy safeguarding their boats as people rushed to buy groceries and withdraw money from ATMs.

Hurricane-force winds and heavy rains began to be felt by around midnight, according to AFP photographers in the city, while state media reported detached roofs, fallen trees and power outages.

Before reaching Nicaragua, Julia passed over a trio of Colombian islands, an environment ministry official told AFP, causing rain and lightning in the country's north.

While authorities reported no significant damage or casualties on the islands, home to about 48,000 people, Colombian President Gustavo Petro put the area on "maximum alert" and ordered hotels to open space for use as shelters.

Julia is classified as a Category One storm, on the low side of the five-tier Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.

It is expected to move across Nicaragua on Sunday before traveling near or along the Pacific coasts of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala through Monday, the NHC said.

Nicaragua has evacuated some 6,000 people in Laguna de Perlas, in the Miskito keys located off the coast, and in other zones.

"We have to prepare with food, plastic, a little bit of everything, because we don't know what's going to happen," Javier Duarte, a cabinetmaker in Bluefields, told AFP.

The municipality of some 60,000 inhabitants has many flimsy structures.

The NHC said that "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides" were possible due to heavy rain "over Central America and Southern Mexico through early next week."

The storm's center was about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Bluefields as of 0715 GMT Sunday, the NHC said.

Julia's arrival in Central America comes less than two weeks after deadly Hurricane Ian crashed into the southwest of the US state of Florida, in one of the deadliest US hurricanes on record.

The Category 4 storm flattened whole neighborhoods on the Sunshine State's west coast. More than 100 people were killed according to US media. — Agence France-Presse