PANAMA CITY (AP) - Civil defense officials said Tuesday that Panama already has seen three deaths blamed on late-season Tropical Storm Otto and Costa Rica ordered the evacuation of 4,000 people from its Caribbean coast ahead.
Otto was gaining strength in the Caribbean and could become the first hurricane to make landfall in Costa Rica since reliable record-keeping began in 1851.
By Tuesday, Otto was centered north of Panama's coast and was expected to move westward, likely making landfall as soon as Thursday in Costa Rica or Nicaragua.
Jose Donderis, Panama's civil defense director, said his country "faces one of the worst meteorological situations, with imminent risk."
Donderis said a landslide just west of Panama City early Tuesday had trapped nine people. Seven were rescued but two were pulled from the mud dead.
In Panama City, a child was killed when a tree fell on a car outside a school.
Panama announced it was cancelling classes and it began to release water from locks and lakes feeding the Panama Canal.
Costa Rica's National Emergency Commission said it was evacuating 4,000 people from the area where the storm was expected to hit and where rivers could overflow.
The effort was expected to involve evacuations by plane, boat and road in the low-lying coastal areas.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis said Otto could damage to the country's important coffee and agriculture sectors.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm has top sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph) and was nearly stationary about 245 miles (395 kilometers) east of Limon, Costa Rica.