Evacuations underway in Nicaragua, Honduras as Hurricane Eta barrels near

(Reuters) – Nicaragua and Honduras were on Monday scrambling to evacuate citizens from their Atlantic coasts as Hurricane Etna barreled closer and the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned of flash floods and “catastrophic winds” in Central America.

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The storm, a devastating Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, was expected to slam the northeast coast of Nicaragua late on Monday or early Tuesday, the Miami-based NHC said.

Describing it as a “major hurricane”, NHC said Eta’s rains may cause “life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds, flash flooding and landslides” in parts of Central America. Jamaica, southern Haiti, the Cayman Islands, El Salvador and southern Mexico may also be hit.

Eta is poised to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Nicaragua in years, and may test President Daniel Ortega, who presides over one of the poorest countries in the Americas.

On Monday afternoon, strong winds and heavy rains lashed Nicaragua and the government put regions on the hurricane’s path on red alert. It has evacuated about 3,000 coastal families and sent in supplies to help residents prepare for the storm’s impact, Vice President Rosario Murillo said.

In Honduras, the government has placed five Atlantic coast regions on red alert, its highest warning, and evacuations were underway, local authorities said.

Adverse weather conditions on Monday forced Honduras to shutter some of its ports, while several towns on its Atlantic coast were already suffering from flooding, the Honduras Permanent Contingencies Commission (COPECO) said.

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According to the latest NHC forecast, Eta could reach land packing winds of up to 150 miles per hour (241.4 kilometers per hour). Once the storm clatters into the mountains of Nicaragua and Honduras, it should weaken rapidly.

By mid-afternoon on Monday, Eta was 70 miles (113 km) east of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border, churning west at 9 mph (14 kph) and blowing sustained winds of 130 mph (209 kph), the NHC said.

Eta is the 28th named tropical storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, tying an all-time record set in 2005, the NHC’s Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch said.

Eta could dump 15-25 inches (38-64 cm) of rain on central and northern Nicaragua and much of Honduras, with up to 35 inches in some areas, the NHC said.

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