PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua — Iota was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane early Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, warning that the storm was likely to bring catastrophic winds, life-threatening storm surge and extreme rainfall to Central America, an area still recovering from Hurricane Eta less than two weeks ago.
The storm was 145 miles southeast of Cabo Gracias Dios on the border of Nicaragua and Honduras with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Iota was expected to make landfall in the area on Monday night.
“It could reach Category 5 status later today before making landfall with 12-18 feet of storm surge,” the hurricane center said, noting it was an “exceptionally dangerous situation.”
A hurricane warning was in effect for several cities along the coast of both countries, where the storm was expected to produce up to 30 inches of rain in some areas through Friday. The intense rainfall could lead to significant flash flooding and mudslides in higher elevations, the center said.
The situation was strikingly familiar for residents in Central America, including Marina Rodríguez, whose home was washed away by Hurricane Eta, which also made landfall as a Category 4.
“I am afraid of the sea level,” Ms. Rodríguez said. “You can see the water coming up and up every minute, so I guess we will have to evacuate.”
Those in the path of Hurricane Iota, which became a hurricane on Sunday, were not the only ones comparing it to Hurricane Eta.
“It’s eerie that it’s similar in wind speed and also in the same area that Eta hit,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman and meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center.
The storm’s impact will be felt “well before the center makes landfall,” Mr. Feltgen said.
Forecasters warned that damage from Hurricane Iota could compound the destruction caused by Hurricane Eta in Central America.
More than 60 deaths were confirmed throughout Central America from Hurricane Eta. In Guatemala, rescuers feared that more than 100 people had been killed in the village of Quejá after the storm chopped off part of a mountain slope.
Many people in the region were left homeless after a number of structures were damaged or destroyed. “Shelter is going to be a problem,” Mr. Feltgen said.
Dozens of Indigenous communities were evacuated starting on Saturday night in Nicaragua and Honduras. In Puerto Cabezas, families were sleeping amid the rubble left from the previous hurricane.
Elsewhere in the country, it was not immediately clear how many people had been transferred to shelters, but photos taken by residents showed hundreds of people being evacuated in Cabo Gracias a Dios and other remote villages.
SINAPRED, the National System for the Prevention, Mitigation and Attention of Disasters in Nicaragua, had also suspended sailing and fishing in nearby waters.
Sadam Vinicius, a father of three, decided to stay with his family at their home near the coast. Afraid of losing his roof, he tried to save it from damage by tying it up with ropes he uses for his work as a fisherman. “We have not received any aid from the government yet,” Mr. Vinicius said. “I am afraid of losing my roof.”
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts until the end of the month, has seen 30 named storms and 13 hurricanes. Six of this year’s hurricanes reached “major” status, meaning they were category 3 or higher.
Meteorologists this year exhausted the 21-name list that is used each season, turning to the Greek alphabet to name systems. The last time the Greek alphabet was used was in 2005, which saw 28 storms strong enough to be named.
Scientists have found that climate change affects how hurricanes form and strengthen; rising ocean temperatures linked to global warming can cause storms to weaken more slowly and remain destructive for longer. In a recent study, scientists found that 50 years ago a typical storm would have lost more than three-quarters of its intensity in the first 24 hours, when it might travel several hundred miles inland, but now it would only lose about half.
Alfonso Flores Bermúdez reported from Puerto Cabezas, Derrick Taylor from London, Allyson Waller from Conroe, Texas, and Neil Vigdor from New York.