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Hurricane Iota heads for already battered Central America

November 16, 2020 GMT
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Residents wade through a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The storm that hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday had become more of a vast tropical rainstorm, but it was advancing so slowly and dumping so much rain that much of Central America remained on high alert. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)
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Residents wade through a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The storm that hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday had become more of a vast tropical rainstorm, but it was advancing so slowly and dumping so much rain that much of Central America remained on high alert. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Iota rapidly gained strength after becoming the 13th hurricane of the Atlantic season Sunday, threatening to bring dangerous winds and rains to Nicaragua and Honduras — countries recently clobbered by Category 4 Hurricane Eta.

The governments of Nicaragua and Honduras said authorities were evacuating some people in the areas near their shared border, a region that forecasts said likely would be in Iota’s path.

Iota became a Category 2 hurricane late Sunday afternoon, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned it would likely be an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm when it approached the Central America mainland late Monday.

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It was already a record-breaking system, being the 30th named storm of this year’s extraordinarily busy Atlantic hurricane season. Such activity has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing wetter, stronger and more destructive storms.

The hurricane center said Iota had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph) late Sunday. It was centered about 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of Isla de Providencia, Colombia, and was moving westward at 10 mph (17 kph). Forecasters said Iota was expected to pass or cross over Providencia late Sunday or early Monday and then approach the coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras on Monday night.

In Honduras, compulsory evacuations began before the weekend and by Sunday evening 63,500 people were reported to be in 379 shelters just in the northern region, while the whole country was on high alert.

Nicaraguan officials said that by late Sunday afternoon about 1.500 people, nearly half of them children, had been evacuated from low-lying areas in the country’s northeast, including all the inhabitants of Cayo Misquitos. Authorities said 83.000 people in that region were in danger.

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 Nov. 3.

Several residents of Bilwi expressed concern that their homes would not stand up to Iota, so soon after Eta. Local television showed people being evacuated in wooden boats, carrying young children as well as dogs and chickens.

Authorities warned that the risk was high because Iota would probably come ashore over areas where Eta’s torrential rains left the soil saturated with water and more prone to new landslides and floods.

Eta already wreaked havoc. It hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, killing at least 120 people as torrential rains caused flash floods and mudslides in parts of Central America and Mexico. Then it meandered across Cuba, the Florida Keys and around the Gulf of Mexico before slogging ashore again near Cedar Key, Florida, and dashing across Florida and the Carolinas.

Iota was forecast to drop 8 to 16 inches (200-400 millimeters) of rain in northern Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and southern Belize, with as much as 30 inches (750 millimeters) in isolated spots. Costa Rica and Panama could also experience heavy rain and possible flooding, the hurricane center said.

Eta was the 28th named storm of this year’s hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. Theta, the 29th, was far out in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, and became a remnant low Sunday.

The official end of hurricane season is Nov. 30.

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Associated Press writer Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report.