Iota has strengthened into a category 2 hurricane as it barrels toward Central America, a region still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Eta, and experts predict this year’s unprecedented storm season will force more people to migrate.
As of 7 p.m. EST on Sunday (000 GMT on Monday), Hurricane Iota was about 255 miles (410 km) off the Nicaraguan-Honduran coast, packing maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour (161 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Iota “is expected to bring potentially catastrophic winds, a life-threatening storm surge, and extreme rainfall impacts to Central America,” the NHC said.
Authorities are warning that Hurricane Iota could exacerbate the massive destruction wrought by Hurricane Eta, which slammed into the region two weeks ago, causing flooding and mudslides that destroyed crops and killed scores of people across a huge swath from Panama to southern Mexico.
The unprecedented 2020 hurricane season comes as Central America is facing an economic crisis linked to the coronavirus pandemic, with experts warning the compounding hardship could fuel a new round of migration from the region.
“Increased movements across borders are now more likely, including of people fleeing violence and persecution,” said Giovanni Bassu, the regional representative for Central America and Cuba for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in a statement on Friday.