Hurricane Iota moves up new threat to Central America

TODAY NICARAGUA – The strengthening of Hurricane Iota is sweeping through the Caribbean and has become a very dangerous Category 4 hurricane early Monday as it heads for Nicaragua and the same parts of Central America battered by Hurricane Eta just over a week ago.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) indicated that Iota became a category 4  with winds of up to 230 kilometers per hour, and could be a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane (out of a maximum of 5) by the time it reaches the coast of Nicaragua.

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Evacuations were being conducted from low-lying areas in Nicaragua and Honduras near their shared border, which appears to be Iota’s likely landfall. Winds and rain were already being felt on the Nicaraguan coast Sunday night.

Iota became a hurricane early Sunday and rapidly gained strenght, and was expected to pass over or near Colombia’s Providencia island during the night. It became a dangerous Category 4 hurricane Monday morning, and the NHC warned it would probably reach the Nicaragua coast late Monday.

The NHC said Iota had maximum sustained winds of  230 kph (145 mph) in a 4 am EST advisory. It was centered about 275 kilometers (170 miles) southeast of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border and moving westward at 17 kph (10 mph ).

It was already a record-breaking system, being the 30th named storm of this year’s extraordinarily busy Atlantic hurricane season. Such activity has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing wetter, stronger, and more destructive storms.

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A pregnant woman is carried out of an area flooded by water brought by Hurricane Eta. Photo / AP

In Honduras, compulsory evacuations began before the weekend and by Sunday evening 63,500 people were reported to be in 379 shelters just in the northern region, while the whole country was on high alert.

Nicaraguan officials said that by late Sunday afternoon about 1,500 people, nearly half of them children, had been evacuated from low-lying areas in the country’s northeast, including all the inhabitants of Cayo Misquitos. Authorities said 83,000 people in that region were in danger.

Wind and rain were beginning to be felt Sunday night in Bilwi, a coastal Nicaraguan city where people crowded markets and hardware stores during the day in search of plastic sheeting, nails and other materials to reinforce their homes, just as they did when Hurricane Eta hit on Nov. 3.

Several residents of Bilwi expressed concern that their homes would not stand up to Iota, so soon after Eta. Local television showed people being evacuated in wooden boats, carrying young children as well as dogs and chickens.

Residents wade through a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras.

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Eta already wreaked havoc. It hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, killing at least 120 people as torrential rains caused flash floods and mudslides in parts of Central America and Mexico.

Then it meandered across Cuba, the Florida Keys and around the Gulf of Mexico before slogging ashore again near Cedar Key, Florida, and dashing across Florida and the Carolinas.

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