Hurricane Eta blasted Nicaragua as a Category 4 storm Tuesday, bringing catastrophic winds and the possibility of flash flooding, landslides and a deadly storm surge to the Central American country, officials said.
Eta — the fifth major hurricane of the 2020 season — made landfall south of Puerto Cabezas on Tuesday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said, and when the storm was coming ashore it had maximum sustained winds of 140 mph.
By 7 p.m., the center of the storm was inland over northeastern Nicaragua and maximum sustained winds were 110 mph. But it was bringing "life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds, and flash flooding" to parts of Central America, the hurricane center said in an advisory. The storm was moving west at 5 mph.
Eta was forecast to produce a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels along parts of the Nicaragua coast, and rainfall for much of that country and Honduras of between 10 to 15 inches with isolated amounts of up to 35 inches.
Guillermo González, director of Nicaragua’s emergency management agency, said in a news conference that there were reports of swollen rivers, corrugated metal roofs flying off homes and fallen trees, poles and power lines.
So far, there were no reported injuries or deaths, he said.
But in neighboring Honduras, authorities there announced the first death attributed to the storm early Tuesday, which involved a child who died in a mudslide.
In Bilwi, Nicaragua, the main coastal city in the region, hospital officials moved patients to a school campus and thousands of people remained in shelters.
Military search and rescue teams were scouring the area.
The storm has been drenching neighboring Honduras with rains since at least Sunday and the country reported its first death attributed to Eta early Tuesday.
A 12-year-old girl died in a mudslide in San Pedro Sula, the main population center in northern Honduras, said Marvin Aparicio, director of the national system of incident commands for Honduras’ emergency management agency.
In Honduras, there were at least 559 people affected by flooding who had to move to shelters or go to relatives’ homes, he said. At least 25 people had been rescued, he said. His agency reported at least six rivers causing significant flooding.
The hurricane underwent a dramatic intensification Monday, strengthening by 80 mph in 24 hours and becoming a ferocious Category 4 storm tied with Hurricane Laura as the strongest yet of 2020 season.
Eta is expected to linger and is forecast to move across Nicaragua and Honduras through Thursday. This weekend, Eta may redevelop over the northwest Caribbean, and by early next week some forecast models track it northeast somewhere between the Gulf of Mexico and Cuba.
There is high uncertainty in this forecast and it is too early for more details, but people in the U.S. should keep an eye on this forecast going into next week.
Eta's intensity is rare for a November storm. At 150 mph, it became the 3rd strongest November hurricane on record.