Otto leaves swath of damage across Nicaragua, Cosa Rica

Friday, November 25, 2016

Costa Rica and Nicaragua bore the brunt of fast-moving Hurricane Otto, which made its way across the Central American isthmus Thursday into early Friday morning, leaving a trail of destruction and at least seven deaths.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, in a press conference early Friday, acknowledged the loss of life, standing at four dead in that nation and some 25 missing in the hard-hit town of Upala. "We grieve for the death of our deceased loved ones and are have a strong, firm attitude of solidarity," he said.

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Three deaths were blamed on Otto in Panama even before landfall; however, in Nicaragua, which took the direct hit, there have been as-of-yet no reported deaths from the storm.

Catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, noted in a briefing Wednesday that "only about a third of domestic properties are insured in Costa Rica." The AIR report added, "The industrial, commercial, and tourism lines generate a reasonable amount of property business for the insurance sector."

An increase in the variety of insurance products available in Costa Rica has helped fuel market growth of 25% year-on-year in the first quarter. Insurance premiums amounted to US$371mn in January-March.

Furthermore, Costa Rica's insurance regulator says 11 out of 13 insurance companies operating in the country have a strong level of solvency.

While there are likely be minimal insured losses in the region, a greater economic impact could emerge from damages to crops hit by the storm.

Coffee plantations nearing harvest, across the impact zone, saw still undetermined damage from the storm, potentially creating shortages of the major regional export.

In Panama, the storm also endangered potato and onion crops, among others, pushing back harvests and likely causing higher food prices ahead.

Otto made landfall midday Thursday on the southern extreme of Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast, some 20 miles north of the Costa Rican border, bringing torrential rain and perilous 175km/h winds.

While it is fortunate that the eye of the hurricane was small and came ashore in a sparsely populated region of coastline, many of those rural communities in the hardest hit areas are now isolated by the storm's affects, and it may take time to assess the full impact on those populations.

The storm made the southernmost landfall for a hurricane and strongest hurricane this late in the season in history for the Atlantic basin.

Adding to problems for emergency agencies, a 7.0 earthquake struck off the western coast of Nicaragua and south of El Salvador Thursday afternoon, triggering alarms across the region, including a tsunami warning, which provoked a fatal heart attack in a Nicaraguan woman.