Hurricane Iota strengthens as it heads towards Central America

Navy members help evacuate people from the Karata and Wawa Bar communities ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Iota in Bilwi Puerto Cabezas Nicaragua Sunday

Iota now a Category 4 hurricane, Central America braced for impact

The storm's track is similar to Eta, another Category 4 hurricane that battered the area earlier this month, and is forecast to bring catastrophic winds, life-threatening storm surge, and heavy rain to Central America.

It became a unsafe Category 3 hurricane early Monday, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned it would probably reach Category 4 strength as it approached the Central America mainland late Monday.

As of 1300 UTC, Hurricane Iota was some 170 miles east of Isla de Providencia, Columbia, and 315 miles east-southeast of the Nicaragua-Honduras border, with maximum sustained winds of 90 MPH, moving to the west at 9 MPH.

Hurricane Iota is expected to make landfall by late Monday.

People try to recover belongings amid mud after the passage of Hurricane Eta as they prepare to evacuate the Omonita neighborhood in El Progreso Yoro department Honduras

The storm is forecast to be at or near major hurricane strength prior to making landfall across Central America, according to the NHC.

Authorities warned that Iota would probably come ashore over areas where Eta's torrential rains saturated the soil, leaving it prone to new landslides and floods, and that the storm surge could reach a shocking 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 metres) above normal tides.

So many systems have formed in the Atlantic this year that the National Hurricane Centre used up its official name list in mid-September and resorted to using Greek letters to designate tropical cyclones.

Iota's extreme outer bands are expected to continue to produce mostly cloudy and windy conditions across the island, with occasional showers and possible thunderstorms mainly across southern parishes through to Monday afternoon, said the Met Service.

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This same area was devastated by Hurricane Eta on November 3, which barreled ashore in coastal Nicaragua near Honduras, at Category 4 strength.

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 November 3.

Hurricane watches and tropical storm warnings are also in effect for surrounding areas.

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.

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

Flooding and rains of 8 to 16 inches - with isolated totals of 30 inches - are also forecast in Honduras, northern Nicaragua, Guatemala and southern Belize, the hurricane center said in its latest advisory. Remnants of Theta, the 29th, dissipated Sunday in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. To be a Cat 5, it would need to have maximum sustained winds of at least 157 miles per hour.

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