The storm had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph) at landfall and was moving to the west at 16 mph (26 kph) on a path expected to also take it over part of Costa Rica during the night. It was predicted to move out into the Pacific on Saturday, and then begin gaining power, likely reaching hurricane force by Monday.
Authorities in Bluefields said they set up 50 temporary shelters before the storm arrived, and many of its 57,000 residents nailed boards over their windows.
Many Nicaraguans still remember Hurricane Joan, a powerful 1988 storm that wreaked havoc on the coast and caused almost 150 deaths in the country.
“We are waiting for the storm to hit, hoping that it won’t destroy our region,” Bluefields resident Ricardo Gómez, who was 8 when Joan hit, said before Bonnie arrived.
The area was also battered by two powerful hurricanes, Eta and Iota, in quick succession in 2020, causing an estimated $700 million in damage.
Officials in Costa Rica expressed concern that the storm would unleash landslides and flooding in an area already saturated by days of rain. The government said seven shelters in the northern part of the country already held nearly 700 people displaced by flooding.
A huge landslide a week ago cut the main highway linking the capital, San Jose, to the Caribbean coast and it remained closed Friday. The government canceled classes nationwide Friday.
Earlier heavy rains also destroyed or damaged a number of bridges.
The fast-moving weather disturbance began drenching parts of the Caribbean region Monday but it did not meet the criteria for a named tropical storm until Friday.