Moving slowly over the southwestern Caribbean Sea, the hurricane was forecast to pass near or over the tiny Colombian island of Providencia late Sunday and hit northeastern Nicaragua and eastern Honduras late Monday. San Andres and Providencia are part of Colombia for centuries but are located closer to Central America than the Colombian mainland.
While Iota's winds could fluctuate as it comes ashore, it won't really matter because widespread damage is inevitable now, said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist at commercial forecaster AccuWeather Inc.
Iota is stronger, based on central pressure, than 2005's Hurricane Katrina and is the first storm with a Greek alphabet name to hit Category 5, Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said. After landfall the hurricane will rapidly weaken as it moves over land and eventually dissipate around midweek over the rugged terrains of Central America somewhere over Honduras near the border with El Salvador. Its center made landfall about 45 km south of the Nicaraguan city of Puerto Cabezas, also known as Bilwi.
Hurricane Iota sent zinc roofing flying into the streets, toppled electricity poles and flayed palm trees as its core approached a remote Central American coast on Tuesday, the second giant storm to tear at the area this month.
The port of Puerto Cabezas, still partly flooded and strewn with debris from the force of Hurricane Eta two weeks ago, again bore the brunt of the storm.
The hurricane, which was a Cat 5, made landfall Monday night as a strong Cat 4 hurricane in almost the same place as Eta, another Cat 4 hurricane that battered the area two weeks ago.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) confirmed on Monday (November 16) that Iota had transformed into a mega category five storm.
Iota is the first Category 5 storm of this record-breaking hurricane season and is threatening many areas of Central America that are still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Eta.
The weakened storm is still predicted to pack a wallop, though, with the storm surge expected to lift coastal water levels by up to 10 feet and winds heavy enough to cut a swath of destruction along the border of Nicaragua and Honduras.
Iota was forecast to drop 250-500mm of rain in northern Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and southern Belize, with as much as 750mm in isolated spots.
Panama's government said a person had died in its western Ngäbe-Buglé region due to conditions caused by storm.
Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said Iota is the latest Category 5 hurricane on record, beating the November 8, 1932, Cuba Hurricane.
Local authorities and the navy frantically tried to get thousands of families to higher ground or ports in the watery region of jungles, rivers and coastline, which also straddles Honduras and took a direct hit from Eta. Parts of the port town of 50,000 had already lost power.
According to IMN director Werner Stolz, Hurricane Iota's faster overland speed means the storm is having a lesser influence on Costa Rica compared to Eta.
As of Monday afternoon, Iota's maximum sustained winds have reached 260 km/h.