MEXICO CITY—Hurricane Eta moved slowly toward Nicaragua’s northeastern coast Tuesday as a Category 4 storm, knocking down trees and power lines, damaging homes and threatening to bring significant flooding to Nicaragua and neighboring Honduras.
The eyewall of the storm was moving onshore between Puerto Cabezas and Prinzapolka on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast around 1 p.m. ET, with maximum sustained winds near 140 miles an hour.
“Eta appears to have peaked in intensity overnight,” the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, adding that rapid weakening is expected when the center of the storm moves onshore.
Guillermo González, head of Nicaragua’s disaster-management agency, said the coastal area had been feeling the effects of the storm since around midnight. As of midday Tuesday, there were reports of fallen trees, knocked down electricity and telephone posts, damaged roofs and rising levels of rivers.
“The good news is that up until now, we don’t have reports of human casualties,” he said. “But the effects of the storm will remain until it leaves Nicaraguan territory. The emergency isn’t over.”
Mr. González said around 30,000 people had taken refuge either at homes of relatives, in shelters set up by the government, or in churches and other buildings.
Videos posted on Twitter by local residents showed tin roofs blown off and dozens of trees knocked down by strong winds, as well as violent swells battering the Nicaragua’s Caribbean shore.
“I couldn’t sleep all night. The wind blew and roared as it was the end of the world,” Freddy Lacayo, a 34-year-old architect who lives in Puerto Cabezas, said by telephone. He gave refuge to four adults and eight children at his home.
Mr. Lacayo said that winds remained very strong Tuesday afternoon, but that the hurricane didn’t appear to have caused any deaths or major material damages so far.
The slow speed at which the storm was moving—it had slowed to 3 mph before landfall—is cause for concern as it could bring about catastrophic landslides and floods in coming days, said Mario Montoya, a meteorologist at the Centro Alexander von Humboldt, a nonprofit in the Nicaraguan capital Managua.
“That usually means more and more intense rains, increasing the risks for the population,” he said.
Eta is expected to move later in the week as a tropical depression across Honduras and Guatemala, bringing heavy rain to the region with the threat of flooding through Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The Nicaraguan government declared a red alert for the northeastern region on Monday, and trucked food and other supplies to the area. It said the Nicaraguan army had 1,500 troops on hand in the region for rescue work, and the national power-transmission company moved several hundred technicians equipped with replacement posts and cable into the area.
In Honduras, where the proximity of the storm has already caused heavy rain and flooding, civil-protection authorities declared a red alert for two departments, in addition to the five placed under alert Monday.
The storm prompted the Honduran government to cancel its Semana Morazánica holiday, which had already been moved to the first week of November from October in an effort to help the tourism industry recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Eta is the 28th named Atlantic storm of the current hurricane season, which runs through November, tying the record for the number of named storms set in 2005. It threatens to be the most damaging to Central America in more than two decades.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch made landfall in Honduras, and in its slow passage across the region caused widespread flooding and landslides that left more than 11,000 people dead and several million homeless, mostly in Honduras and Nicaragua, according to a report by the U.S. National Climatic Data Center. Mitch caused billions of dollars in losses to infrastructure and crops in the region, especially in Honduras.
Heavy rains from Hurricane Nate caused flooding and mudslides, and left around 45 people dead in Central America in 2017.
A key difference between now and 1998, when Mitch ravaged the region, is that there is greater prevention and more readily available information for the population through news media and social networks, said Mr. Montoya, the meteorologist.
“Prevention work has helped to minimize casualties so far. But it is too early to say that there won’t be a lot of deaths, we cannot cry victory yet,” he added.
A Global Asset Management Seoul Korea Magazine