PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua – The situation was all too familiar to Marina Rodríguez: A destructive storm in a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season struck the Mosquito Coast.
The previous storm, Hurricane Eta, washed away her home less than two weeks ago, said Ms. Rodríguez, 47, whose children helped her build an emergency shelter on Sunday.
As Hurricane Iota intensified and moved closer to the coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras, there seemed to be no respite for Ms. Rodríguez and many other tired residents of the area.
The storm rose to become a Category 5 hurricane on Monday morning, the first to reach this strength this year. According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, it should land by Monday evening.
“I am afraid of the sea level,” said Ms Rodríguez. “You can see the water rising and falling every minute, so we must evacuate.”
Those en route of Hurricane Iota weren’t the only ones who compared it to Hurricane Eta.
“It’s creepy that it’s similar in wind speed and also in the area where Eta hit,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman and meteorologist for the National Hurricane Center.
The effects of the storm will be felt “long before the center lands,” said Feltgen.
The storm was 100 miles southeast of Cabo Gracias Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border with maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday morning. The storm was moving west at 9 miles an hour
A hurricane warning was in effect for several cities along the coast of both countries where the storm was expected to produce up to 30 inches of rain in some areas by Friday. The intense rains could lead to significant flash floods and mudslides at higher altitudes, according to the center.
“The catastrophic wind damage will be wherever his wall of eyes comes ashore, and that will be tonight and that should be along the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras,” said Feltgen.
Forecasters warned that damage from Hurricane Iota could worsen the destruction caused by Hurricane Eta in Central America.
Across Central America, more than 60 deaths have been confirmed from Hurricane Eta. In Guatemala, rescuers feared more than 100 people had been killed in the village of Quejá after the storm chopped off part of a mountainside.
Many people in the area were left homeless after some buildings were damaged or destroyed. “Shelter is going to be a problem,” said Mr Feltgen.
Dozens of indigenous communities were evacuated in Nicaragua and Honduras from Saturday evening. In Puerto Cabezas, families slept amid the wreckage of the previous hurricane.
Elsewhere in the country it was not immediately clear how many people had been taken to shelters, but photos of residents showed hundreds of people had been evacuated in Cabo Gracias a Dios and other remote villages.
SINAPRED, the national disaster prevention, reduction and management system in Nicaragua, had also stopped sailing and fishing in nearby waters.
Sadam Vinicius, father of three children, decided to stay with his family in their home near the coast. Afraid of losing his roof, he tried to protect it from damage by tying it with ropes that he used for his work as a fisherman. “We have not yet received any help from the government,” said Vinicius. “I’m scared of losing my roof.”
There were 30 named storms and 13 hurricanes in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends November 30th. Meteorologists exhausted the 21-name list used each season and turned to the Greek alphabet to name systems. The Greek alphabet was last used in 2005, when 28 storms were strong enough to be named.
Category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin are rare this late in the season. “It’s the latest thing,” said Feltgen, listing other category 5 hurricanes in the late season, including Mitch in 1998 and an unnamed storm in 1932 that passed east of the Cayman Islands on November 9 and Cuba later that day met a category 4.
Scientists have found that climate change affects the formation and amplification of hurricanes. Rising sea temperatures associated with global warming can cause storms to slow down and remain destructive for longer. In a recent study, scientists found that a typical storm 50 years ago would have lost more than three quarters of its intensity in the first 24 hours if it had traveled hundreds of miles inland, but now only about half it.
Alfonso Flores Bermúdez reported from Puerto Cabezas, Derrick Taylor from London, Allyson Waller from Texas and Neil Vigdor from New York. Johnny Diaz contributed to coverage from Miami.