Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

Hurricane Iota slams into Central America 'like bullets'

The storm will hinder recovery from Hurricane Eta, which struck less than a fortnight ago

Hurricane Iota barrelled through Central America on Tuesday, hours after making landfall as the strongest Atlantic storm this year along a stretch of Nicaraguan coast devastated by a powerful storm just two weeks ago.

Authorities rushed to evacuate thousands of people from coastal areas of Nicaragua and Honduras in the immediate path of the storm.

The weather system has already left one person dead after sweeping the Colombian Caribbean island territory of Providencia, where it caused widespread damage.

US forecasters at the National Hurricane Centre warned of "life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds, flash flooding, and landslides" in Central America.

Iota became the only Atlantic hurricane this year to reach Category 5 status, the maximum level on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, soon before it made landfall in Nicaragua on Monday evening.

Iota came ashore just 25 kilometres south of where Hurricane Eta made landfall November 3. Eta’s torrential rains saturated the soil in the region, leaving it prone to new landslides and floods, and that the storm surge could reach 4.5 to 6 metres above normal tides.

In Bilwi, business owner Adán Artola Schultz braced himself in the doorway of his house as strong gusts of wind and rain drover water in torrents down the street. He watched in amazement as wind ripped away the metal roof structure from a substantial two-story home and blew it away like paper.

“It is like bullets,” he said of the sound of metal structures banging and buckling in the wind. “This is double destruction,” he said, referring to the damages wrought by Eta just 12 days earlier.

“This is coming in with fury,” said Artola Schultz.

Storm surge was on the mind of Yasmina Wriedt in Bilwi’s seaside El Muelle neighbourhood.

“The situation doesn’t look good at all,” Ms Wriedt said earlier in the day. “We woke up without electricity, with rain and the surf is getting really high.”

Ms Wriedt, who works for a small-scale fishing organisation called Piquinera, said the roof of her house was blown off by Eta less than two weeks ago.

“We repaired it as best we could. Now I think the wind will take it again because they say (Iota) is even stronger,” she said, the sound of hammering echoing around her as neighbours boarded windows and reinforced roofs.

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During Eta, the surf came up to just behind her house, where she lives with eight other members of her family. “Today I’m afraid again about losing my house and I’m frightened for all of us who live in this neighbourhood,” she said.

Ms Wriedt said some neighbours went to stay with relatives elsewhere, but most have stayed. “We’re almost all here,” she said. “Neither the army nor the government came to move us.”

Cairo Jarquin, Nicaragua emergency response project manager for Catholic Relief Services, had just visited Bilwi and smaller coastal communities Friday.

In Wawa Bar, Mr Jarquin said he found “total destruction” from Eta. People had been working furiously to put roofs back over their families’ heads, but now Iota threatened to take what was left.

“The little that remained standing could be razed,” Jarquin said. There were other communities farther inland that he was not even able to reach due to the condition of roads. He said he heard that Wawa bar was evacuated again Saturday.

Evacuations were conducted from low-lying areas in Nicaragua and Honduras near their shared border through the weekend.

Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is also the first lady, said that the government had done everything necessary to protect lives, including the evacuation of thousands. She added that Taiwan had donated 800 tons of rice to help those affected by the storms.

Limborth Bucardo, of the Miskito Indigenous ethnic group, said many people had moved to churches in Bilwi. He rode out Eta with his wife and two children at home, but this time decided to move in with relatives in a safer neighbourhood.

“We hadn’t finished repairing our houses and settling in when another hurricane comes,” Bucardo said. “The shelters in Bilwi are already full, packed with people from (surrounding) communities.”

Iota is the record 30th named storm of this year’s extraordinarily busy Atlantic hurricane season. It’s also the ninth storm to rapidly intensify this season, a dangerous phenomenon that is happening increasingly more often. Such activity has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing wetter, stronger and more destructive storms.

Iota is stronger, based on central pressure, than 2005′s Hurricane Katrina and is the first storm with a Greek alphabet name to hit Category 5, Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said. It also sets the record for the latest Category 5 hurricane on record, beating the record set by the November 8, 1932, Cuba Hurricane.

Updated: November 17, 2020 03:40 PM

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