(CNN)Tropical Storm Iota could strengthen into a major hurricane in the Caribbean and slam into Central America early next week — the very region already devastated by Hurricane Eta earlier this month — forecasters say.
Iota, which formed Friday at sea, was centered in the Caribbean about 570 miles east of the Nicaragua-Honduras border with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph as of 4 a.m. ET Saturday, the US National Hurricane Center said.Forecasts call for Iota to continue heading west and make landfall somewhere in Central America, potentially near the Honduras-Nicaragua border by late Monday or early Tuesday, CNN meteorologist Tyler Mauldin said.Iota is expected to become a hurricane at sea this weekend. By landfall, it is expected to be a major hurricane — at least a Category 3 — with winds of at least 111 mph, the NHC said.Besides delivering damaging winds, Iota could drop 8 to 30 inches of rain on Honduras, northern Nicaragua, eastern Guatemala and southern Belize through Wednesday, the NHC said — unwelcome news for a region pummeled by Hurricane Eta last week.Read MoreCosta Rica, Panama, northern Colombia could receive 4 to 12 inches of rain through Wednesday, while El Salvador and southern Nicaragua could get 2 to 6 inches in the same period, the NHC said.”This rainfall (from Iota) would lead to significant, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the NHC said.Iota is 30th named storm in the Atlantic this year — the most ever for an Atlantic hurricane season. Central America devastated by Hurricane EtaEta crossed into northern Nicaragua on November 3 as a Category 4 hurricane, and pounded that country and Honduras, Guatemala and Belize for days with heavy rain. It caused landslides and serious flooding, and left scores of people dead or missing.In Central America, a devastating storm and an uncertain future The full scope of the damage from Eta likely won’t be known for a while. But the powerful storm, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, may be remembered as one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region.More than 3.6 million people across Central America have been affected by the storm to varying degrees, the Red Cross said earlier this week.Even before the storm, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala had poor public health systems that were struggling against Covid-19. With thousands in shelters, and social distancing hard to do, many fear that the disease will spread. Hospitals there now also face the burden of combating other illnesses related to the storm and flooding, from dengue to cholera to yellow fever.