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Hurricane Eta Lashes Nicaragua's Coast As Forecasters Warn Of 'Catastrophic' Flooding

Children sit on a beach house window as Hurricane Eta approaches in Bilwi, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, on Monday.
Children sit on a beach house window as Hurricane Eta approaches in Bilwi, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, on Monday.

Hurricane Eta, a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 145 miles per hour, is due to make landfall in Nicaragua Tuesday, bringing heavy rain and fears of flooding to Central America's Caribbean coast.

The U.S.-based National Hurricane Center warned that Eta, which has rapidly moved up the Saffir-Simpson Scale from a Category 1 storm on Monday, would batter Nicaragua with "catastrophic" winds, storm surge and flooding. After the hurricane makes landfall early Tuesday, it was expected to linger in the region for the remainder of the week, intensifying the flooding threat.

The NHC cautioned that flash flooding and river flooding might occur as far away as Haiti and the Cayman Islands.

Forecasters said the Nicaraguan coast should expect storm surge up to 15 feet above normal tides.

Eta is the 28 th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, tying the record for most storms set in 2005. It is conjuring memories of Hurricane Mitch, one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes on record, which killed an estimated 11,000 people in Nicaragua and Honduras in 1998. Mitch, which spun up into a Category 5 hurricane, suddenly lost power before its landfall in Honduras, slowing and loitering offshore, where its intense range and storm surge took a heavy toll.

Eta has rapidly intensified in the past couple of days, becoming an "extremely dangerous storm" that led Nicaragua to issue a red alert warning. It is set to hit Puerto Cabezas, also known as Bilwi, in Nicaragua's north, one of the country's poorest regions. As of 7 a.m. ET, the center of the storm was located about 30 miles southeast of the city, where Hurricane Felix killed 100 people in 2007.

"This city of 70,000 people is very vulnerable," Javier Plat, a local Catholic Priest in Puerto Cabezas, told Reuters. "We have houses made of wood and adobe, the infrastructure of the residential houses is our main vulnerability."

In Nicaragua, disaster management agency, SINAPRED, said it had evacuated some 6,000 families. Authorities also moved patients from the Nuevo Amanecer hospital in Bilwi to safe shelter, according to Today Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan army sent troops specialized in search and rescue to the region and the navy on Monday ferried residents from coastal islands. In neighboring Honduras, authorities also evacuated people to shelters from the outer islands and areas most vulnerable to flooding. As a precaution, El Salvador has also evacuated some of its people.

Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua's vice president and first lady, appeared on television Monday, where she prayed for divine protection. "How many hurricanes have come and we have moved on, thanks to God," she said.

After making landfall, Eta is forecast to push into the interior of northern Nicaragua and then hit central Honduras on Thursday, where it is expected to rapidly weaken.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.