Parts of Central America were preparing for heavy rain, high winds and flooding on Tuesday morning when Hurricane Iota hit the region, the most recent hurricane to hit the area in less than two weeks. Even as Iota weakened overnight after landing, the National Hurricane Center warned it could have an oversized impact as it battles areas that have still recovered from Hurricane Eta this month.
According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Iota landed in northeast Nicaragua as a Category 4 storm at 10:40 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, with winds reaching 155 miles per hour. In the northeastern Nicaraguan city of Puerto Cabezas, the water rose and hundreds of families were evacuated from the coastal communities when the storm tore the roofs of homes and hotels.
By early Tuesday, Iota’s maximum wind speed had dropped to 105 miles per hour and the storm had weakened into a Category 2 hurricane, despite the hurricane center still calling it “extremely dangerous.” Although the storm was expected to weaken further on its way through Nicaragua, the hurricane center warned of “life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic winds, flash floods and landslides” in parts of Central America.
Aiders are struggling to reach communities cut off by washed-out bridges, fallen trees, and flooded roads from Hurricane Eta, which landed about 15 miles from Iota this month.
“Floods and mudslides in parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala could be exacerbated by the recent impact of Hurricane Eta, which could lead to significant to potentially catastrophic effects,” the hurricane center said in an early morning opinion.
Iota was supposed to move inland across Nicaragua in the morning and across South Honduras in the evening. On Tuesday morning, the eye of the storm was about 40 miles southwest of Puerto Cabezas.
Philip Klotzbach, a scientist at Colorado State University, said on Twitter that Iota was the strongest November hurricane to ever land in Nicaragua.
Even before Iota landed, the wind was blowing the roof of a makeshift hospital in Puerto Cabezas that had been set up to treat people affected by Hurricane Eta. Much of the city has been without electricity since 3 p.m. on Monday.
Iota, which turned into a hurricane on Sunday, is expected to produce up to 30 inches of rain in some areas of Nicaragua and Honduras by Friday. Water levels on both countries’ coasts are also expected to be “up to 15 to 20 feet above normal tide levels,” according to the hurricane center.
Dozens of indigenous communities were evacuated throughout the weekend in Nicaragua and Honduras, where the military posted pictures on Twitter of soldiers helping people out of stilted wooden houses and bringing them to safety. A soldier stood in knee-deep water, holding a resident’s pink backpack in the same arm as his service weapon.
The storm hits a region that is still hit by Hurricane Eta.
Forecasters have warned that Hurricane Iota could worsen the destruction from Hurricane Eta, which killed at least 140 people across Central America after landing in Nicaragua as a Category 4 storm.
In Puerto Cabezas, a Nicaraguan town where houses are cobbled together with wood, nails and zinc sheets, families slept amid the rubble of the previous storm. When the water rose on Monday evening, hundreds of families were evacuated. On the east side of the city, strong winds blew the roofs of some structures.
One resident, Maria Williams, 64, said after Eta destroyed her humble home, her children improvised a shelter in the same location. But it was practically on the beach and right in the line of fire of Hurricane Iota. So she evacuated again and walked through the rubble from the last storm to reach her sister’s house.
“This Hurricane Iota is a monster,” said Ms. Williams. “I don’t think I can survive anymore if I stay in this house. I am afraid for myself and my grandchildren. “
Another resident, Rodolfo Altunes, said he planned to stay there during Iota’s hits, but he and his wife decided on Monday night to evacuate with their children in tow because of the strong wind and storm surges.
Two hours after he left, he learned that his home had been destroyed.
“I am happy,” he said. “God loved me.”
Iota left floods in Colombia.
Before Hurricane Iota entered Nicaragua, it cut off two Colombian islands east of the coast of Central America.
Photos taken on the islands of San Andrés and Providencia showed trees bending under violent winds. Colombian officials and news reports reported that both islands had suffered power outages.
President Iván Duque said Monday that communications with Providencia had been “very poor” due to outages in the telecommunications network and that the Colombian military was one of the agencies helping with the relief effort.
Video footage from Cartagena, a city on the country’s Caribbean coast, showed people carefully wading through half-flooded streets next to half-submerged boats.
Speaking from Cartagena, Mr Duque said that the aid workers would leave for Providencia on Tuesday if conditions permit and that the rescue workers plan to distribute 15 tons of humanitarian aid to the archipelago, which includes San Andrés and Providencia.
“We are here with a dedicated team of courageous and patriotic Colombians who are working to deal with this emergency,” said Duque, flanked by helpers in surgical masks and matching jackets.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for both islands from Tuesday morning.
As Iota moves inland, the churches strive to prepare.
Iota is expected to produce up to 30 inches of rain in some areas of Nicaragua and Honduras by Friday. Heavy rainfall at higher altitudes can lead to significant flash floods and mudslides.
The storm is also expected to raise water levels up to 15 to 20 feet above normal in some places and large destructive waves are expected to accompany the rise. As the storm moved west on Tuesday, patches on the coasts of both nations were under hurricane or tropical storm warnings.
Dozens of indigenous communities were evacuated in Nicaragua and Honduras over the weekend.
President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras said Monday that among many of the country’s staff were soldiers, including firefighters and police officers, who had been activated to prepare for Iota’s arrival. He added that along the way of the storm, people would receive cellphone messages informing them of risks and evacuation plans.
“The first and most important thing is to save lives,” he said.
The most active hurricane season is not over yet.
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends November 30, had 30 named storms, including 13 hurricanes. And six of these hurricanes have been classified as “major” – including Eta and Iota – which means Category 3 or higher.
After the meteorologists had exhausted the list of 21 names drawn up for each hurricane season, they turned to the Greek alphabet to name the other new systems. The last time the Greek alphabet was used was when 28 storms were strong enough to be named.
That year, the storms began two weeks before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season with the formation of Tropical Storm Albert in mid-May.
In August, mid-season, the scientists improved their outlook, saying 2020 would be “one of the most active seasons” and that they would expect up to 25 named storms by its end.
By November, even this improved expectation was exceeded.
Before Iota hit Nicaragua on Monday, there was Theta, the 29th storm of the season. It broke the annual record set in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.
The coverage was written by Alfonso Flores Bermúdez, Johnny Diaz, Natalie Kitroeff, Oscar Lopez, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Neil Vigdor, Allyson Waller, Mike Ives and Megan Specia.