Hurricane Iota began whipping a remote coastal area of Nicaragua with catastrophic winds, storm surges and rain on Monday night, as the region’s leaders blamed climate change for destruction that is driving millions closer to starvation.
Iota would crash through northeastern Nicaragua’s Miskito region overnight, packing maximum prolonged winds of 160 miles per hour after reaching Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the US National Hurricane Center said.
By 7 p.m. EST, the western edge of the storm’s eye, or “eye wall,” had reached the country, the NHC said. Reuters images showed rain spraying the partially flooded beach town of Puerto Cabezas off Nicaragua’s coast and wind rattling the roofs of its one-story buildings.
“We are all afraid for our lives,” said Magdalena Bell, who had taken refuge in a local shelter in Puerto Cabezas.
Central America and southern Mexico are still being pulled by Hurricane Eta, which destroyed crops and washed away slopes after landing near Puerto Cabezas two weeks ago, killing dozens. Many cities are still partially flooded, and the country is waterlogged from the previous storm.
Together with the wind, Iota will raise sea levels as much as 6 meters above normal tides. It is expected to weaken rapidly inland, but will dump as much as 76 cm of rain in the next few days.
Earlier in the day, governments from Panama to Guatemala rushed to move people away from slopes, volcanoes and streams. The World Food Program said that millions of people were already in dire need of food aid in the wake of Eta.
“What is approaching is a bomb,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez told a news conference and spoke with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.
Central America was among the worst affected regions in the world by climate change, the presidents said, adding that tens of thousands of families had lost entire crops to the destruction of Eta.
Iota will leave Honduras and its neighbors in “a very difficult situation,” Hernandez said.
Since records began to be kept in 1851, it is the first time two major hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic. Iota is also the first Category 5 storm during the hurricane season.
The Miskito region, which stretched across Honduras and Nicaragua, competed to get people to safety before a forecast struck directly from Iota. Its eye was about 55 km east-southeast of Puerto Cabezas after cutting the Colombian islands of San Andres and Providencia before dawn, with power outages.
Unmatched hurricane season
Pictures from the Nicaraguan military showed that soldiers helped people into boats in high seas and trucks to move to higher land and larger cities in the watery region of jungles, rivers and coasts.
“There are villages that can protect or save themselves, but others cannot cope with this catastrophe after Eta,” said Teonela Wood, mayor of Honduras’ Brus Laguna, which she said was home to more than 17,000 people.
Many of the people of Miskito are descendants of indigenous groups along with Africans who fled slavery and the cast who are believed to have survived a 17th-century slave ship.
The unsurpassed hurricane season 2020 comes as Central America faces an economic crisis linked to the coronavirus pandemic, with experts warning that the exacerbated difficulty could exacerbate infections, spread hunger and drive a new round of migration from the region.
Iota is the hardest November storm in the region since a Cuba hurricane from 1932 that packed winds of 175 km / h, according to the private forecasting company AccuWeather.
Climate change is increasing the intensity of both rain and drought in Central America, the UN refugee agency said last week, saying such phenomena could exacerbate poverty that drives people to flee their homes.
With an increase in average global temperatures, hurricanes grow stronger and spin more slowly, which can prolong their destructive migrations over land.