Eta becomes hurricane, gearing up to hit Nicaragua hard

Nov 2 (Reuters) - Storm Eta became a hurricane in the Caribbean early on Monday as it gathered strength and moved closer to lashing Nicaragua and Honduras with devastating winds and rains, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The storm, now a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, is expected to strike the northeast coast of Nicaragua and neighboring areas of eastern Honduras late Monday or early Tuesday, the Miami-based NHC said.

Through Friday evening, Eta’s rains will cause “catastrophic” flooding and landslides in Central America, the NHC said. Jamaica, southern Haiti, the Cayman Islands, El Salvador and southern Mexico may also be hit.

Eta is poised to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Nicaragua in years, and may test President Daniel Ortega, who presides over one of the poorest countries in the Americas.

The government is on high alert. It has evacuated some coastal communities and sent in supplies to help residents prepare for the storm’s impact, state-run media said.

According to the latest NHC forecast, Eta could reach land as a Category 3 hurricane, packing winds of up to 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour). Once the storm clatters into the mountains of Nicaragua and Honduras, it should weaken rapidly.

Early on Monday, Eta was 175 miles (282 km) east-northeast of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, churning west at 12 mph (19 kph) and blowing sustained winds of 75 mph (121 kph), the NHC said.

Eta is the 28th named tropical storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, tying an all-time record set in 2005, the NHC’s Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch said.

Eta could dump 15-25 inches (381-640 mm) of rain on central and northern Nicaragua and much of Honduras, with up to 35 inches (889 mm) in some areas, the NHC said. (Editing by)