A damaged boat is seen on sand as Hurricane Iota approaches Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. Wilmer Lopez/Reuters
Gulf Today Report
Powerful Hurricane Iota made landfall on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast late on Monday as the region’s leaders blamed climate change for destructive weather pushing millions closer to hunger.
With catastrophic winds and storm surges Hurricane Iota is threatening catastrophic damage to the same part of Central America already battered by equally strong Hurricane Eta less than two weeks ago.
“We’re all scared for our lives,” said Magdalena Bell, who had taken refuge in a shelter in Puerto Cabezas.
Iota had intensified into an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm early in the day, but the US National Hurricane Center said it weakened slightly to Category 4, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (250 kph).
Its center made landfall about 30 miles (45 kilometres) south of the Nicaraguan city of Puerto Cabezas, also known as Bilwi.
Iota already had been hitting the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras with torrential rains and strong winds.
Central America and southern Mexico are still reeling from Hurricane Eta, which devastated crops and washed away hillsides after landing near Puerto Cabezas two weeks ago, killing dozens. Many towns are still partially flooded, and the land is waterlogged from the earlier storm.
Along with the wind, Iota will raise sea levels as much as 20 feet (6 metres) above normal tides. It is expected to dump as much as 30 inches (76 cm) of rain over the next few days as it weakens inland.
Earlier in the day, governments from Panama to Guatemala rushed to move people away from hillsides, volcanoes and bodies of water. The World Food Programme said millions of people had already urgently needed food aid in the wake of Eta.
“What’s drawing closer is a bomb,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez told a news conference, speaking alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.
Central America was among the worst affected regions in the world by climate change, the presidents said. Tens of thousands of families had lost entire crops to Eta’s destruction, he said.
Iota will leave Honduras and its neighbors in “a very difficult situation,” Hernandez said.
This is the first time two major hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic basin in November since records began in 1851. Iota is also the first Category 5 storm of the hurricane season.
The Miskito region straddling Honduras and Nicaragua raced to get people to safety before a forecast direct hit from Iota. Its eye was about 30 miles (45 km) east-southeast of Puerto Cabezas after clipping the Colombian islands of San Andres and Providencia before dawn, cutting off electricity.
Images from Nicaragua’s military showed soldiers helping people into boats in heaving seas and trucks to move to higher land and larger towns in the watery region of jungles, rivers and coastline.
“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 municipality, 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 escaped from slavery and those castaways believed to have survived a 17th-century slave shipwreck.
The unprecedented 2020 hurricane season comes as Central America is facing an economic crisis linked to the coronavirus pandemic, with experts warning the compounding hardship could worsen infections, spread hunger and fuel a new round of migration from the region.
Iota made landfall in Nicaragua as a “catastrophic” Category 5 hurricane on Monday, but its remnants will continue to be deadly through Thursday even as 2020’s biggest Atlantic storm subsided over El Salvador.
Experts predict this year’s unprecedented storm season will force more people to migrate as it heads for the same part of Central American battered by a similarly powerful Hurricane Eta just over a week ago.
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