Bilwi (Nicaragua) (AFP) -
Hurricane Iota could strengthen into a 'catastrophic' Category 5 hurricane by landfall in Central America late Monday, slamming areas devastated by tropical storm Eta two weeks ago, the US National Hurricane Center warned.
Iota became a Category 4 -- out of 5 -- hurricane early Monday as it tracked westward over the Caribbean towards the Nicaragua-Honduras border.
But it could quickly worsen as it nears land, the Miami-based NHC warned.
'Iota could be a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane when it approaches Central America tonight,' the agency said in its latest bulletin.
It was already packing maximum sustained winds of 145 miles (230 kilometers) per hour with higher gusts and is destined to be at least an 'extremely dangerous' Category 4 hurricane when it makes landfall.
Parts of Central America can expect 'potentially catastrophic winds, a life-threatening storm surge and extreme rainfall,' the NHC warned.
Category 5 hurricanes destroy many homes, wreck power supplies and most of the affected area is 'uninhabitable for weeks or months.'
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has seen the most named storms on record, with 30 named storms and 13 hurricanes.
So many, that by October, with the arrival of tropical storm Wilfred in the eastern Atlantic, meteorologists had already used every name on the season's list, causing them to use the Greek alphabet, which last occurred in 2005.
Iota is the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet.
Warmer seas caused by climate change are making hurricanes stronger for longer after landfall, scientists say.
- Evacuations underway -
Communities on Monday prepared for the worst along the Caribbean coast.
Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua announced evacuations last week, even as the region was still reeling from the devastation inflicted by Eta.
In the Nicaraguan coastal city of Bilwi, residents were desperately trying to secure roofs of flimsy wooden homes with the same zinc sheets ripped off by Eta.
Many people were wrapping their belongings in plastic bags to protect them from the coming rains.
'We are worried, nervous. Psychologically we are not doing well, because losing our things and starting over is not easy. Some of us have old little houses and we risk losing everything,' Silvania Zamora told AFP.
Authorities have ordered people to leave the area, but many are refusing, fearing Covid-19.
'Some of us prefer to stay and die in our homes. There has never been a repeat hurricane in such a short time, but what can we do against the force of God and nature,' Zamora said.
Eta's heavy rains burst river banks and triggered landslides as far north as Chiapas, Mexico.
Initial estimates show 'some 80,000 families are going to be at risk,' said Guillermo Gonzalez, head of Nicaragua's disaster response agency Sinapred.
Evacuations were underway in communities along the border with Honduras, he said.
Authorities on Friday sent boats to evacuate the community in Cabo Gracias a Dios, where the Coco River flows into the Caribbean along the 'Mosquito Coast.'
The NHC warned that Iota would deposit as much as 16 inches (40 centimeters) of rain on Honduras, northern Nicaragua, Guatemala and southern Belize, with isolated totals of up to 30 inches.
'This rainfall would lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with mudslides in areas of higher terrain,' it said.