MANAGUA (AP) – Iota quickly strengthened Monday into a Category 5 hurricane that was approaching dangerously the shores of Central America, in the same area that was hit less than two weeks ago by another powerful meteor, Eta.
The United States National Hurricane Center reported that Iota had maximum sustained winds of 260 kilometers per hour (160 miles per hour) and was located 90 kilometers (55 miles) east-southeast of the Nicaraguan coastal town of Puerto Cabezas, also known as Bilwi, and it was moving west at 15 kilometers per hour (9 miles per hour).
The hurricane strengthened in the waters of the Caribbean as it approaches the coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras, where on Monday afternoon there were already heavy rains and strong winds, although the eye of the meteor is still several hours from making landfall in northeastern Nicaragua. .
Authorities warned that Iota would likely reach areas where torrential rains from Eta saturated the soil, leaving it prone to further landslides and flooding, and that storm surge could reach between 4.5 and 6 meters (15 to 20 feet) above normal tides.
Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo said authorities had evacuated thousands of people from the areas that will be affected.
Nicaragua and Honduras maintain a red alert for the entire Caribbean zone and the north, where it is believed that the powerful cyclone will cause heavy rains, river overflows, landslides and floods. Honduran authorities reported late Sunday that 63,500 people were in 379 shelters in the northern coastal region alone.
In Bilwi, Nicaragua, where about 60,000 people live, people anxiously awaited the impact of the cyclone amid still intermittent rain and winds that increased in force by the minute. This area was punished 13 days ago by Eta.
“The situation is not looking good at all. We woke up without electricity, with rain and the tide was rising very high, ”Yasmina Wriedt, a neighbor of the El Muelle neighborhood, told The Associated Press from her small house on the beach, an area always vulnerable to storms and storm surges.
The woman, who works for the artisanal fishing organization called Piquinera, says her home lost its roof due to the impact of Hurricane Eta on November 3.
“We repaired it as best we could, but now I think the wind will blow it away again, because they say (Iota) is even stronger,” he said.
When Eta hit Bilwi, the tide rose behind Dona Yasmina’s house, where six adults and three children live, all members of her family.
A few meters away, some people rush to place wooden planks over the small windows of their homes and reinforce the zinc sheets on the roofs, so that Iota does not take them away again. From Yasmina’s house you can hear the constant hammering of the neighbors.
Iota became a hurricane early Sunday morning and quickly gained more power. The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned it would likely hit mainland Central America by Monday night.
Iota is the 30th named storm in this year’s extraordinary Atlantic hurricane season. It is also the ninth rapidly intensifying storm this season, a dangerous phenomenon that occurs with increasing frequency. This activity has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing wetter, stronger and more destructive storms.
Eta hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killed at least 120 people as torrential rains caused flash floods and landslides in parts of Central America and Mexico. It then snaked through Cuba, the Florida Keys, and around the Gulf of Mexico before coming ashore again near Cedar Key in Florida and through Florida and the Carolinas.
On Monday, Carmen Isabel Rodríguez Ortez, 48, was still living in a government shelter with more than 250 people in La Lima, Honduras, just outside the city of San Pedro Sula.
“We are living a real nightmare,” said the woman, concerned about the new hurricane. “Now more rains are announced and we do not know what will happen, because our houses are completely flooded.”
Eta was the 28th named storm this year, tying the 2005 record. The remnants of Theta, the 29th, dissipated in the eastern Atlantic Ocean on Sunday.
For the past two decades, meteorologists have been concerned about storms like Iota strengthening much faster than normal and created an official threshold for this rapid intensification: a storm gaining 56 kph (35 mph) in wind speed in just 24 hours. Iota doubled that number.
Earlier this year Hannah, Laura, Sally, Teddy, Gamma, Delta, Zeta, and Iota quickly stepped up. Laura and Delta tied or set rapidly escalating records.
Scientists at the National Office for Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studied the effect and found that “a lot of it has to do with human-caused climate change.”
With Iota and Eta, it is the first time that two major hurricanes with winds exceeding 177 kph (110 mph) have hit the Atlantic in November, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. When Iota’s maximum winds reached 250 kph (155 mph), they tied with Lenny’s 1999 as the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic at this time of the calendar year.
The official end of the hurricane season is November 30.
The Associated Press journalist Marlon González contributed to this story from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.