Still reeling from the deadly devastation of Hurricane Eta, Honduras and Guatemala are bracing for another tropical storm to hit the region.
In a statement issued at 10am ET (15:00 GMT) on Saturday, the United States-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that Tropical Storm Iota was expected to strengthen, bringing “dangerous winds, storm surge and rainfall” to Central America starting on Monday.
The storm was located about 545km (340 miles) from Kingston, Jamaica, the NHC said.
“Iota is forecast to be at or near major hurricane strength when it approaches Central America,” the agency said in its statement.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said on Saturday that he had ordered evacuations for areas expected to be affected by the incoming storm.
“We are concerned about the area of Alta Verapaz and Quiche. We believe that they are the areas where we could have the greatest impact,” Giammattei said. “We hope God helps us.”
In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernandez also urged people in the path of Iota to evacuate to the nearest shelters. “Iota is going to put our lives and our economy at risk again,” he said.
The region is still recuperating after Category 4 Hurricane Eta struck earlier this month, killing at least 120 people, according to Reuters news agency’s tally.
Heavy rainfall led to deadly flash flooding and landslides in several countries.
On Saturday morning, authorities in Guatemala said a mudslide buried 10 people in the state of Chiquimula near the border with Honduras. Emergency workers said they rescued two people and recovered three bodies, while five others are still missing.
Guatemala’s Alta Verapaz region has been especially hard hit by Eta, as a mountain partly collapsed in the village of Queja, killing and burying alive dozens of people.
Rescue operations across Honduras and Guatemala were slowed by destroyed roads and bridges, forcing authorities to draft in the military and use helicopters and speedboats to rescue people stranded on top of their houses.
Iota is already a record-setting system, being the 30th named storm of this year’s extraordinarily busy Atlantic hurricane season.
Such activity has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing wetter, stronger and more destructive storms.
We are concerned about the area of Alta Verapaz and Quiche. We believe that they are the areas where we could have the greatest impact. We hope God helps us
The NHC said the storm could lead to life-threatening flash flooding and cause rivers to burst their banks in parts of Haiti, Jamaica and Central America through Wednesday.
Residents of the community of Cruz de Valencia in northwestern Honduras have already begun evacuating.
“We have to get out, we have to save our lives,” resident Erick Gomez told Reuters news agency.
Gomez said he only survived the flooding from the last hurricane by clinging to a tree to avoid being swept away by the rushing water.
“We are afraid of what we just suffered with Eta, and we do not want to go through the same thing again,” he added.