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Iota to slam Nicaragua as a Category 5

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Hurricane Iota rapidly strengthened Monday into a Category 5 storm that was likely to bring catastrophic damage to the same part of Central America already battered by a powerful Hurricane Eta less than two weeks ago.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm had maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph) at midafternoon. It was centered about 55 miles (90 kilometers) east-southeast of the Nicaraguan city of Puerto Cabezas, also known as Bilwi, and moving westward at 9 mph (15 kph). Iota was lashing the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras with torrential rains and strong winds while its eye was still several hours from making landfall in northeastern Nicaragua.

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 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 meters) above normal tides.

That storm surge was on the mind of Yasmina Wriedt on Monday in Bilwi’s El Muelle neighborhood, sitting tight against the sea.

“The situation doesn’t look good at all,” Wriedt said. “We woke up without electricity, with rain and the surf is getting really high.”

Wriedt, who works for a small-scale fishing organization called Piquinera, said that the roof of her house was blown off in Eta less than two weeks ago. “We repaired it as best we could, now I think the wind will take it again because they say (Iota) is even stronger,” Wriedt said, the sound of hammering echoing around her as neighbors boarded windows and reinforced roofs.

During Eta the surf came up to just behind her house, where she lives with eight other members of her family. “Today I’m afraid again about losing my house and I’m frightened for all of us who live in this neighborhood.”

Wriedt said some neighbors went to stay with relatives elsewhere, but most have stayed. “We’re almost all here,” she said. “Neither the army nor the government came to move us.”

Cairo Jarquin, Nicaragua emergency response project manager for Catholic Relief Services, had just visited Bilwi and smaller coastal communities Friday.

In Wawa Bar, Jarquin said he found “total destruction.” People had been working furiously to put roofs back over their families’ heads, but now Iota threatened to take what was left.

“The little that remained standing could be razed,” Jarquin said. There were other communities farther inland that he was not even able to reach due to the condition of roads. He said he heard that Wawa bar was evacuated again Saturday.

Evacuations were being conducted from low-lying areas in Nicaragua and Honduras near their shared border through the weekend.

Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is also the first lady, said Monday the government had done everything necessary to protect lives, including the evacuation of thousands.

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