Still reeling from Eta, Central America now bracing for Hurricane Iota

Tegucigalpa, Nov 15 (efe-epa).- Honduras is on “red alert” for the arrival of Hurricane Iota, which should make landfall as either a very powerful Category 4 or 5 storm in Nicaragua on Monday bringing torrential rain to the region, which just two weeks ago was blasted by Hurricane Eta, a Cat 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Initially, the forecast from the state-run Copeco emergency commission was that Iota would make landfall in Gracias a Dios province, which borders on Nicaragua, but on Friday a new report from the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said that the storm had slightly changed its trajectory.

Now, Iota is expected to move over Honduras on either Tuesday or Wednesday in El Paraiso province, bringing heavy rain and storm damage throughout the area, Copeco chief Max Gonzalez said, adding that the effects of the hurricane’s rain bands will begin to be felt on Sunday night in eastern Honduras.

Honduras has been on “red alert” for the past two weeks, since Eta devastated the country, killing some 70 people, according to preliminary reports, and causing much infrastructure damage from wind and flooding in 16 of the country’s 18 provinces.

Some towns in Honduras are still flooded from Eta, which affected 2.9 million of the country’s 9.5 million citizens, and the government has ordered people in areas in Iota’s path – particularly in the eastern, southern and central parts of the country – to evacuate.

Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, the North Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN), one of the country’s poorest areas, which was lashed by Eta, is also on red alert as Iota bears down on the region.

The government has evacuated thousands from the area, with authorities expecting Iota to hit just south of Cape Gracias a Dios at the city of Prinzapolka, the same area that was hit hard by Eta, which left thousands homeless or with property damage.

Nicaragua’s Ineter territorial studies institute said that Iota’s maximum sustained winds have increased to 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour, making it a Category 1 storm at this point as it has accelerated its westward speed to 15 kph, up from 9 kph at the penultimate report.

The storm’s eye is located 315 km (195 mi.) east of the Colombian island of Providencia and 540 km (335 mi.) east-southeast of Cape Gracias a Dios, according to the National Hurricane Center, and the forecast is for parts of northeastern Nicaragua and northern Honduras to receive upto 750 mm (30 inches) of rain, with the concomitant risk of serious flooding, overflowing rivers and mudslides.

A storm surge of up to 4.5 meters (15 feet) is predicted along the coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras.

In RACN, Eta destroyed some 1,900 homes and damaged another 8,000-plus, with most of the local residents rather lightly populated zone being members of indigenous peoples.

And the Colombian island of San Andres in the Caribbean Sea is on alert on Sunday for the passage of Hurricane Iota, after also being hit hard by Eta two weeks ago.

Colombia’s Ideam environmental institute chief, Yolanda Gonzalez, said that a hurricane warning had been issued for the island of Providencia, where 5,000 people live, and a tropical storm warning for San Andres, with its more than 43,000 residents.

The storm is expected to hit the archipelago on Sunday night.

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