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By Oswaldo Rivas

MANAGUA, Tues. Nov 3, 2020 (Reuters) – Hurricane Eta, one of the most powerful storms to hit Central America in years, struck Nicaragua this morning in an impoverished region of its Caribbean coast, battering homes and essential infrastructure and threatening to unleash deadly flooding.

Eta plowed ashore near the port of Puerto Cabezas, pulling roofs off houses, knocking down trees and power lines, and causing flooding in the region, said Guillermo Gonzalez, the head of Nicaragua’s disaster management agency SINAPRED.

The storm had been pummeling the coast with high winds and rain since around midnight, Gonzalez told a news conference.

“We’re really afraid, there are fallen poles, there’s flooding, roofs torn off, some of the zinc on my house fell off,” said Carmen Enriquez, a resident of Puerto Cabezas.

A man walks at the Bilwi’s Baseball Stadium, as Hurricane Eta makes landfall in Bilwi, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, on November 3, 2020. (Photo by INTI OCON/AFP via Getty Images)

“We spent the whole night up worrying, it hasn’t stopped raining, and they say it’s just starting,” she added.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Eta is an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, bringing “catastrophic” winds to Nicaragua.

Shortly before the Nicaraguan government announced the arrival of the storm, Eta was blowing sustained winds of 145 miles per hour (233 kph), according to the NHC.

The northern indigenous regions directly in Eta’s path are some of Nicaragua’s poorest. Many people nearby live in wooden homes that stand little chance against such a powerful storm.

Palm trees blow in the wind as Hurricane Eta makes landfall in Bilwi, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, on November 3, 2020. (Photo by INTI OCON/AFP via Getty Images)

Late on Monday, Javier Plat, a local Catholic priest, told Reuters there was a city-wide power outage in Puerto Cabezas and government-arranged shelters had reached capacity.

“This city of 70,000 people is very vulnerable. We have houses made of wood and adobe. The infrastructure of the residential houses is our main vulnerability,” Plat said.

Nicaragua on Monday evacuated at least 3,000 families, including fishermen who live in the most vulnerable villages on the Atlantic coast, officials said.

The storm is forecast to move inland over northern Nicaragua through Wednesday morning and then hit central Honduras on Thursday. Once it clatters into the mountains of Nicaragua and Honduras, it should weaken rapidly, NHC said.

Ortega’s government had issued red alerts in several regions in the path of the hurricane. On Monday, several ports in neighboring Honduras, where the government had carried out evacuations, were forced to shut amid reports of floods.

El Salvador also evacuated citizens as a precaution.

Eta is the 28th named tropical storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, tying an all-time record set in 2005, the NHC said.

(Reporting by Ismael Lopez, Nelson Renteria and Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Drazen Jorgic Editing by Daniel Flynn, Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

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