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Hurricane Iota swoops in on Eta-ravaged Central America, over 200 now dead or missing

Mon 16 Nov 2020    
| 2 min read

Hurricane Iota is forecast to strengthen to an “extremely dangerous” Category Four by the time it makes landfall in Central America on Monday, the US National Hurricane Center warned, two weeks after powerful storm Eta devastated much of the region and left more than 200 people dead or missing.

Iota strengthened to a Category Two out of five on the Saffir-Simpson wind strength scale Sunday as it tracked westward over the Caribbean towards the Nicaragua-Honduras border.

Maximum sustained winds are near 100 miles (155 kilometers) per hour with higher gusts.

“Rapid strengthening is expected during the next 24 hours, and Iota is forecast to be an extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane when it approaches Central America,” the Miami-based NHC said.

Moving slowly over the southwestern Caribbean Sea, the hurricane was forecast to pass near or over the tiny Colombian island of Providencia late Sunday and hit northeastern Nicaragua and eastern Honduras late Monday.

The NHC forecast “potentially catastrophic winds, a life-threatening storm surge and extreme rainfall” for Central America as Iota became the year’s 13th hurricane.

Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua announced evacuations Friday, even as the region was still reeling from the devastation inflicted by Eta.

In the Nicaraguan coastal city of Bilwi, residents were desperately trying to secure the roofs of flimsy wooden homes with the same zinc sheets ripped off by Eta.

Authorities have ordered people to leave the area, but many are refusing to leave out of fear of catching Covid-19.

Eta’s heavy rains burst river banks and triggered landslides as far north as Chiapas, Mexico.

Initial estimates show “some 80,000 families are going to be at risk,” said Guillermo Gonzalez, head of Nicaragua’s disaster response agency Sinapred.

The NHC warned that Iota would deposit as much as 16 inches (40 centimeters) of rain on Honduras, northern Nicaragua, eastern Guatemala and southern Belize, with isolated totals of up to 30 inches.

Eta hit the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua as a Category Four storm, one of the strongest November storms ever recorded.

Warmer seas caused by climate change are making hurricanes stronger for longer after landfall, scientists say.

This year’s hurricane season has seen a record 30 named tropical storms across the Caribbean, Central America and the southeastern US.