The storm known as Iota rapidly strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane Sunday evening and is expected to slam into storm-ravaged Central America in the coming days.
Iota is forecast to make landfall as a Category 4 with sustained winds of at least 130 mph late Monday night or early Tuesday. It will be the second major hurricane to hit the region in the past two weeks. On November 3, Hurricane Eta made landfall as a Category 4 storm, causing landslides and flooding that left scores of people dead or missing.
Iota, which formed Friday at sea, was 255 miles east of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaraguan-Honduran border with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph at 7 p.m. ET Sunday, the US National Hurricane Center said. It is forecast to continue to rapidly strengthen over the next 24 hours.
Iota – the 13th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season – is expected to continue heading west and make landfall somewhere in Central America, potentially near the Honduras-Nicaragua border by late Monday or early Tuesday, CNN meteorologist Tyler Mauldin said.
Nicaragua has issued a hurricane warning from Sandy Bay Sirpi to the border with Honduras, and Honduras issued a hurricane warning from the border of Nicaragua to Punta Patuca.
Parts of those two countries could receive torrential rain totals of 2 to 3 feet, along with a life-threatening storm surge of 10 to 15 feet.
Besides delivering damaging winds, Iota could drop 8 to 16 inches of rain on Honduras, northern Nicaragua, eastern Guatemala and southern Belize through Thursday, the NHC said – unwelcome news for a region pummeled by Hurricane Eta in early November.
Costa Rica, Panama and northern Colombia could receive 4 to 8 inches of rain through Thursday, while El Salvador and southern Nicaragua could get 2 to 4 inches in the same period, the NHC said.
Colombia’s government has issued a hurricane warning for the island of Providencia and the island of San Andres is under both a hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning.
“This rainfall (from Iota) would lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the NHC said.
Iota is 30th named storm in the Atlantic this year – the most ever for an Atlantic hurricane season.
Central America devastated by Hurricane Eta
Eta crossed into northern Nicaragua on November 3 as a Category 4 hurricane, and pounded that country and Honduras, Guatemala and Belize for days with heavy rain.
The full scope of the damage from Eta likely won’t be known for a while. But the powerful storm, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, may be remembered as one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region.
More than 3.6 million people across Central America have been affected to varying degrees, according to the Red Cross. “We are talking about a huge impact across the region,” said Santiago Luego, of the Red Cross.
Even before the storm, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala had poor public health systems that were struggling in the fight against Covid-19.
With thousands in shelters, and social distancing hard to do, many fear that the disease will spread. Hospitals there now also face the burden of combating other illnesses related to the storm and flooding, from dengue to cholera to yellow fever.
CNN’s Haley Brink, Ray Sanchez, Matt Rivers, Natalie Gallón, Alaa Elassar and Taylor Ward contributed to this report.