MANAGUA — The Nicaraguan coast hs prepared for Hurricane Iota as it approaches as a "potentially catastrophic" Category 5 hurricane that was expected to make landfall Monday night, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Iota is expected to be even more devastating than Hurricane Eta, which ravaged Central America less than two weeks ago. It is the latest Category 5 hurricane to occur in the Atlantic on record.
"I'm really sad, to be honest, because it's not fair that after we experienced one storm, once again another threat arrives for our people," Presly Coleman Alejandro, an activist with the Youth Indigenous Movement of La Moskitia, said in an interview. "I don't know what we've done to deserve this
Nicaraguan authorities evacuated an estimated 30,000 people during Eta, which made landfall in Puerto Cabezas on the northern Nicaraguan coast Nov. 4. Coleman Alejandro estimates that less than half were able to return to their communities to check on their homes, crops and livestock, much of which were swept away during Eta, before having to prepare for this hurricane.
The government issued a new hurricane alert to evacuate communities, and many residents are staying in churches, schools and universities to wait out the storm. Coleman Alejandro said that shelters are not well coordinated and lack some basic supplies, such as mattresses and cooking utensils.
Hurricane Iota intensified at an exceptional rate Sunday night into Monday morning.
"This is a catastrophic situation unfolding for northeastern Nicaragua with an extreme storm surge of 15-20 ft forecast along with destructive winds and potentially 30 inches of rainfall," the National Hurricane Center wrote.
Iota is likely to make landfall very near or in the same location as Eta did. Its predecessor moved ashore with 140 mph winds and ravaged the community of Puerto Cabezas in northern Nicaragua. Iota could equal or exceed that force as it makes landfall overnight Monday into Tuesday, with social media footage showing heavy rain and gusty winds moving ashore during the day Monday.
Hurricane warnings are up for the eastern coast of Nicaragua, eastern Honduras and Providencia Island, where Iota's worst effects are likely.
Iota is the 30th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, marking a record. It's the first time on record that the Atlantic has had two major hurricanes in November. It's also the 10th named storm of the season to rapidly intensify, a feat that atmospheric scientists link to warmer sea surface temperatures from human-caused climate change.
At 1 p.m. Monday, Hurricane Iota was centered about 80 miles east-southeast of Puerto Cabezas, and was churning west at 9 mph. The storm had maximum sustained winds, tightly coiled about the center, of 160 mph. The storm's southern eyewall had just clipped San Andres island.
Satellite imagery revealed Iota maintaining its fierce buzzsaw-like appearance, a maelstrom of devastating winds surrounding a razor-sharp eye.
Iota beats Laura, which struck southwest Louisiana in late August, and Eta, which made landfall in Nicaragua 12 days ago, as the strongest hurricane of the 2020 season. Activity this strong so late in the season is virtually unheard of.
Iota became a hurricane at 1 a.m. on Sunday and had lurched to Category 4 strength about 24 hours later. It has been rapidly intensifying nonstop since its early stages as a tropical storm, a rate of intensification that would be extreme even during the height of the hurricane season.