Well, I wish I was writing after such a long hiatus with good news, but unfortunately this isn't the case. Hurricane Felix made landfall on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua this morning as a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest type of storm. For comparison, Katrina was only a Category 3 when it made landfall near New Orleans. Felix is closely following the trajectory taken by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which was extremely destructive in the area where my friends live.
In good news, the eye of the hurricane is passing to the north of the Matagalpa area, and Felix is travelling a little faster than Mitch was. (Mitch parked over the region for a week, causing enormous floods.) Also, it has now weakened to a Category 3.
In bad news, the storm is slowing down. The National Weather Service has predicted that between 8-12 inches of rain may fall on Nicaragua, but that mountainous regions (like Matagalpa, although it didn't specifically give Matagalpa as an example), may get up to 25 inches of rain.
Back during Hurricane Mitch, the rain was the worst part of the storm in the Matagalpa region. Landslides and flooding carried away most of the crops that had been planted that year, and stripped most of the coffee off the trees. Many of the coffee trees themselves were even uprooted and carried off by mudslides. Some houses were even carried off. And in this normally pretty dry region, water sources--wells and natural springs--were permanently damaged. The roads were blocked for weeks.
I expect that most of my friends are taking shelter in the cement schoolhouse in the community, which is not too near any unstable hillsides. After the experience 9 years ago, I imagine they're taking this storm seriously. But after the storm, an NGO did a survey of unstable hillsides in the area, which might pose a risk for mudslides in another similar storm. They identified houses which are in risky places, and advised the residents of the houses to move. But they had nowhere else to go which would be less risky. If those surveys were accurate, I am worried that a number of my friends may lose their houses in this storm.
Keep your fingers crossed that this storm will pass through quickly. If you pray, please pray. If anything changes, or I get any news, I'll post about it here.