Hurricane Iota rapidly strengthened Monday into a Category 5 storm that is likely to bring catastrophic damage to the same part of Central America already battered by a powerful Hurricane Eta less than two weeks ago.
Iota has intensified over the western Caribbean on approach to Nicaragua and Honduras. US Air Force hurricane hunters flew into Iota's core and measured maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east-southeast of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua and moving westward at 9 mph (15 kph).
Authorities warned that Iota would probably come ashore over areas where Eta's torrential rains saturated the soil, leaving it prone to new landslides and floods, and that the storm surge could reach a shocking 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 meters) above normal tides.
Evacuations were being conducted from low-lying areas in Nicaragua and Honduras near their shared border, which appeared to be Iota's likely landfall. Winds and rain were already being felt on the Nicaraguan coast Sunday night.
Iota became a hurricane early Sunday and rapidly gained more power. It was expected to pass over or near Colombia's Providencia island during the night, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned it would probably reach the Central America mainland late Monday.
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