Iota was expected to intensify to major hurricane strength or just short of it by the time it smashes into the jungles of the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua and Honduras on Monday.
The storm comes as Central America is still coping with the massive destruction wrought by Hurricane Eta, which slammed the region two weeks ago, prompting flooding and mudslides that have killed scores of people across a huge swath stretching from Panama to southern Mexico.
On Saturday morning, Guatemalan authorities said a mudslide had buried 10 people in Chiquimula state, near the border with Honduras. Emergency workers rescued two people and recovered three corpses; five people were still missing. Saturday’s mudslide followed last week’s partial collapse of a mountain onto the village of Queja, in the central Guatemalan region of Alta Verapaz, which killed and buried alive dozens of residents.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei expressed on Saturday his concern about the approach of Iota, saying he had ordered evacuations for areas expected to be affected. “We are concerned about the area of Alta Verapaz and Quich. We believe that they are the areas where we could have the greatest impact,” said Giammattei. “We hope God helps us.”
In Honduras, where Eta killed 64 people and damaged roads, bridges and crops, President Juan Orlando Hernndez on Saturday urged people in the path of Iota to evacuate to the nearest shelters. “Iota is going to put our lives and our economy at risk again,” he said.
Residents of the community of Cruz de Valencia in northwestern Honduras began evacuating. “We have to get out. We have to save our lives,” said resident Erick Gomez, who said he survived the flooding from the last hurricane by clinging to a tree to avoid being swept away by the rushing water. “We are afraid of what we just suffered with Eta, and we do not want to go through the same thing again.”
The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that Iota could bring flash flooding and mudslides across northern Colombia and Central America as early as Monday. It is expected to pack maximum winds of 110 mph (177 kph) as it approaches landfall.
At 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT), Iota was about 780 kilometers (485 miles) east-southeast from the Nicaraguan-Honduran coast, with maximum sustained winds of 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph). It was moving at 8 kph (5 mph) in a west-southwest direction.