By George Rodriguez
SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Tropical storm Otto killed at least four people and forced thousands to evacuate after battering Nicaragua and Costa Rica with hurricane-force winds and torrential rains, then moved out into the Pacific Ocean.
Otto hit the coast on Thursday from the Atlantic as a hurricane in southeastern Nicaragua, but weakened rapidly and became a tropical storm by early Friday as it drifted deeper into the Pacific, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
In Costa Rica, the national emergency commission (CNE) reported that two men and two women were killed by the storm, which dumped over a month's worth of rain in some areas near the Nicaraguan border. Some 255 communities were affected, with over 5,500 people housed in 50 shelters across the country, the CNE said.
"After a fateful night in parts of the country, we're starting to realize the scale of the tragedy that hit us," Costa Rican President Luis Guillmero Solis told a news conference.
Nevertheless, in Nicaragua, there were no immediate reports of deaths. In the port of Bluefields, north of where the storm landed, there was very limited damage.
"It was a relief for us," said William Salmeron, a 39-year-old businessman in the city. "I wasn't scared, just the normal fear you need to have with hurricanes."
The sun shone in Bluefields on Friday, and people went shopping in the market. Down by the shore, others took their boats out of storage and down to the water.
Across Nicaragua, people in evacuation shelters were making their way home, local authorities said.
Otto, the seventh Atlantic hurricane of the season, landed north of the town of San Juan de Nicaragua as a Category 2 storm, the Miami-based NHC said.
By Friday morning Otto was heading out to the Pacific with top sustained winds of 65 mph (105 kph) and churning about 245 miles (394 km) south-southeast of San Salvador.
In a freakish coincidence, soon after Otto landed on Thursday, a 7.0-magnitude quake struck 93 miles (149 km) southwest of Puerto Triunfo, El Salvador.
There were no reports of major damage from the quake, which along with Otto, prompted Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to declare a state of emergency.
(Additional reporting by Ivan Castro in Bluefields; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter)