Traveling west at just 5 miles per hour, the Eta is set to hit most of the coast for a long time. Strong winds of 69 miles per hour and gusts of up to 103 mph were measured at Puerto Cabezas airport around Tuesday morning.
The hurricane rapidly intensified from a tropical storm on Sunday and nearly reached level 5 on Monday before reaching the coast. It could be one of the most devastating hurricanes in the region since Hurricane Felix in 2007 caused at least 130 deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
During the Felix era, “there were many deaths. You went to the sea and you saw floating people who drowned. It was awful, ”Indigenous leader José Coleman told the Washington Post by phone Monday night from his home in Puerto Cabezas. “We hope that doesn̵7;t happen.”
Before the landing, Nicaragua officials evacuated more than 3,000 people to more than 15 shelters, mainly to schools and churches in Puerto Cabezas. Many residents living on islands off the coast of Nicaragua were evacuated by boat. The usual wooden-clad houses in the area could not withstand high winds.
Local stores quickly faced a shortage as residents scrambled to buy plastic to seal electronics, important documents and boards to close windows. Local fishermen brought all of their boats ashore.
On Monday, villagers along the coast reported that rain and wind had begun there. Power is already available and officials are preparing for a two-week blackout.
Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast is inhabited by the indigenous Miskito and Afro-Nicaraguan people. These communities are some of the poorest in the country, cut off from the many resources concentrated in the capital, Managua. Puerto Cabezas, a city of about 60,000 people accessible after 12 hours drive from the capital, is expected to be hit hardest by the storm.
“Everyone takes care of themselves the best they can and whatever resources they have,” Coleman said. But the limited resources in these communities mean disasters are “devastating”, he added.
“We hope it’s not like that, there won’t be a lot of human and material damage, and they don’t lose hope.”
The storm hit Nicaragua at a time when these communities were reeling from the pandemic. The International Monetary Fund predicts a 5.5% decline in the Nicaragua economy this year. The year 2020 marks the third consecutive year of economic recession after massive protests against President Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, lead to a nationwide political and social crisis. in 2018.
Food insecurity along the coast could also increase if the storm destroys the crops families rely on. The government sent 88 tons of food to the coastal communities in preparation.
Eta’s winds are expected to weaken as it moves inland towards Managua on Wednesday, then north towards Honduras. However, rainfall up to 35 inches or more can cause landslides in Nicaragua and across Central America. Honduran media reported the first death of a 13-year-old boy in San Pedro Sula when a wall fell from a landslide.
High stakes forecast with increasing risk of spike in Puerto Cabezas
On satellite imagery, Eta appears to begin to experience the effects of land interactions Tuesday. It could no longer hold a pinhole, and the storm’s cloudy peaks weren’t as high and cold as Monday night. However, after forming a new glass wall, the storm once again solidified on Tuesday afternoon, causing ominous danger of storm and wind flooding in Puerto Cabezas.
Eta’s winds are expected to weaken as it moves inland, but the hurricane’s most common threat – rainfall flooding – will only be underway. There can be extensive rainfall with a total of 1 to 3 feet of rainfall, with the outside likelihood of higher precipitation as hilly terrain intensifies precipitation.
“This precipitation will lead to catastrophic, life-threatening flash floods and floods, along with landslides in higher terrain areas of Central America,” the Storm Center wrote.
The flooding will not be localized to Nicaragua, but is expected to affect Jamaica, Honduras, southeastern Mexico, El Salvador, Haiti and the Cayman Islands.
Rural communities in these countries are extremely susceptible to mudslides and flash floods. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch level 1 killed more than 11,000 people in Central America after wetting the area with 35 to 75 inches of rainfall total.
Further, Eta’s residual circulation may reappear in the northwestern Caribbean, and re-form a tropical storm or sow the seeds of a new tropical storm. Based on some computer model forecasts, Eta is likely to haunt forecasts for up to a week and a half.
Hurricane Eta in the historical context
The hurricane also turned from a 40 mph tropical storm to a 110 mph hurricane for 24 hours from Sunday morning through Monday, with the power doubling the speed needed to be classified as a “strong fast speed ”. That was unprecedented for November; In fact, only about half a dozen Atlantic hurricanes are reported to match or exceed that rate at any point during the hurricane season.
Meanwhile, the risk of Eta redevelopment in the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico is increasing. It could become a danger to Cuba or even South Florida over the weekend.
Matthew Cappucci reports from Washington.