The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, as of 10 a.m. EST, the storm is packing maximum sustained winds of 145 mph, and is located about 30 miles south-southeast of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. Eta is moving west-southwest at only 5 mph.
“Extremely dangerous Hurricane Eta continues to inch closer to the coast of northeastern Nicaragua,” the NHC said.
The storm is a Category 4 hurricane, the second-strongest on the Saffir Simpson hurricane wind scale. Eta is not forecast to lose any strength until it moves inland.
“Catastrophic wind damage is expected where Eta’s eyewall moves onshore within the hurricane warning area within the next few hours, with tropical storm conditions already occurring in this area,” the NHC said.
On the forecast track, Eta will make landfall along the coast of Nicaragua during the day on Tuesday. It will be a catastrophic storm for this region.
Eta will move farther inland over northern Nicaragua through Wednesday morning and then move across the central portions of Honduras by Thursday.
Once the storm makes landfall, it’s expected to drop between 15 to 25 inches of rain across much of Nicaragua and Honduras. Other areas of Central America could see well over 10 inches of rain.
“This rainfall will lead to catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain of Central America,” the NHC said.
Early Tuesday, Guillermo González, director of the Nicaragua emergency management agency, said in a news conference that as Eta began to make landfall there were reports of corrugated metal roofs flying off homes, trees, poles and power lines falling, and rivers rising in the coastal area.
So far, there were no reported injuries or deaths, he said.
As the storm neared landfall about 10,000 people were in shelters in the city of Bilwi and an equal amount were sheltered in smaller towns across the region, he said. The area had already been lashed with strong winds and heavy rain for hours.
The quantities of rain expected from Eta have drawn comparisons to 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes in history. An NHC archival report said Mitch led to the deaths of more than 9,000 people.
Eta tripled in strength in about 24 hours, rapidly intensifying from a 40 mph tropical storm Sunday morning to a 120 mph hurricane around midday Monday, and continuing to gain power throughout the day.
The remnants of Eta will have to be monitored as it is forecast to re-emerge into the Caribbean in the next few days.
Eta is now the eighth Atlantic storm this season to hit the meteorologists’ definition for rapid intensification. It is also the 28th named Atlantic storm this season, tying the 2005 record for named storms.
There is just one month left in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30, but this season has broken numerous records as forecasters in September ran out of traditional names and went to the Greek alphabet for storms Alpha and Beta.
NOAA forecasters had called for up to 25 named storms this season with winds of 39 mph or higher; of those, seven to 10 could become hurricanes. Among those hurricanes, three to six will be major, classified as Category 3, 4 and 5 with winds of 111 mph or higher.
That’s far above an average year. Based on 1981-to-2010 data, that is 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. So far this year, there have been 28 named storms, including 12 hurricanes and, of those, five major hurricanes.
The last time the Greek alphabet was used in the Atlantic was in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. With a total of 28 storms that year, the first six letters of the Greek alphabet were used: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta.
Fox News’ Janice Dean, Brandon Noriega, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.