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Hurricane Felix made landfall early Tuesday as a Category 5 storm, marking the first time in recorded history that two top-scale storms have come ashore in the same season.
The storm hit near the swampy Nicaragua-Honduras border, home to thousands of stranded Miskito Indians dependent on canoes to make their way to safety.
Meanwhile, off Mexico's Pacific coast, Tropical Storm Henriette strengthened into a hurricane with 75 mph winds and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was churning toward the upscale resort of Cabo San Lucas, popular with Hollywood stars and sea fishing enthusiasts.
Hurricane Dean came ashore just last month as a Category 5 storm, and Felix's landfall marked the first time that two Category 5 hurricanes have hit land in a season since 1886, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Only 31 such storms have been recorded in the Atlantic, including eight in the last five seasons.
"This is an extremely dangerous and potentially catastrophic hurricane. We just hope everybody has taken the precautions necessary to protect life and property,'' Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said Tuesday.
Off Mexico's Pacific coast, Henriette strengthened into a hurricane and was on a path to hit the tip of the Baja California Peninsula on Tuesday afternoon. The had sustained winds of 75 mph.
At 8 a.m. EDT it was centered about 80 miles south-southeast of the peninsula.
Before dawn Tuesday, strong waves pounded the resort's beaches, rain fell in sheets and strong winds whipped palm trees. More than 100 residents spent the night in makeshift shelters as the storm approached, and more were expected to leave their homes Tuesday.
On Monday, police in Cabo San Lucas said one woman drowned in high surf stirred up by Henriette. Over the weekend, the storm caused flooding and landslides that killed six people in Acapulco.
On Tuesday, in the final hours before Hurricane Felix was expected to hit, Grupo Taca Airlines frantically airlifted tourists from the Honduran island of Roatan, popular for its pristine reefs and diving resorts, while the U.S. Southern Command said in a statement that a Chinook helicopter evacuated 19 U.S. citizens, including tourists and members of U.S. Joint Task Force-Bravo who were visiting the island.
Another 1,000 people were removed from low-lying coastal areas and smaller islands.
Bob Shearer, 54, from Butler, Pa., said he was disappointed his family's scuba diving trip to Roatan was cut short by the evacuation order.
"I only got seven dives in. I hope they didn't jump the gun too soon,'' he said as he waited for a flight home in the San Pedro Sula airport.
Felix was projected to rake central Honduras, slam into Guatemala and then cut across southern Mexico, well south of Texas.
Its massive storm surge could devastate Indian communities along the Miskito Coast, an isolated region straddling the Honduras-Nicaragua border where Miskito Indians live in wooden shacks, get around on canoes and subsist on fish, beans, rice, cassava and plantains. Thousands were stranded along the coast late Monday.
The only path to safety is up rivers and across lakes that are too shallow for regular boats, but many lack gasoline for long journeys. Provincial health official Efrain Burgos estimated that 18,000 people must find their own way to higher ground.
The storm was following the same path as 1998's Hurricane Mitch, a sluggish storm that stalled for a week over Central America, killing nearly 11,000 people and leaving more than 8,000 missing, mostly in Honduras and Nicaragua.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Felix could dump up to 12 inches of rain in isolated parts of northern Honduras and northeastern Nicaragua, possibly bringing flash floods and mudslides. In the highland capital of Tegucigalpa, more than 100 miles inland, authorities cleared vendors from markets prone to flooding.
Across the border in Belize City, skies grew increasingly cloudy and winds kicked up as residents boarded windows and lined up for gas. Tourists competed for the last seats on flights to Atlanta and Miami. Police went door-to-door forcing evacuations.
This program aired on September 4, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.
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