Eta strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane on Monday as it barreled towards the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and Honduras, the US National Hurricane Center said.
The hurricane was packing sustained winds of 110 miles (175 kilometers) an hour as it swept over the Caribbean 140 miles northeast of the Nicaraguan coastal city of Bilwi, the NHC said.
Travelling at nine miles an hour, Eta is expected to make landfall early Tuesday just north of Bilwi, the main town in Nicaragua's Caribbean region.
"Life threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds, flash flooding and landslides are expected across portions of Central America," the NHC said in a bulletin.
It warned that "flash flooding and river flooding would be possible across Jamaica, southeast Mexico, El Salvador, southern Haiti, and the Cayman Islands."
Dangerous storm surges are expected to raise water levels by up to 18 feet (five meters) above normal tide levels in areas along the northeastern coast of Nicaragua, and up to five feet above normal along the coast of Honduras, where a tropical storm warning was in force.
Eta dumped heavy rains in Costa Rica on Sunday, where authorities evacuated people from the country's southern Pacific coast.
"The eye of the hurricane is coming directly over Bilwi and we have it close by," local resident Limbort Bucardo told AFP.
"There is some concern from the population, there are many flood areas, people are packing their goods and looking for ways to get out to shelters."
Residents stocked up with food, lamps, radios and plastic bags to protect their belongings, Bucardo said.
"The houses are totally vulnerable, they are old wooden houses lined with plastic," unable to withstand strong winds, said emergency services volunteer Kevin Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said 1,600 indigenous people were evacuated from the outlying Miskitos Cays archipelago, in the path of the hurricane, on Sunday.
The government sent 88 tons of food to the region on Sunday, as well as emergency crews to help repair communications and infrastructure once the hurricane has passed.
© 2020 AFP