MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The heart of powerful Hurricane Eta began moving ashore in Nicaragua Tuesday with devastating winds and rains that had already destroyed rooftops and caused rivers to overflow.
The hurricane had sustained winds of 140 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, down from an overnight peak of 150 mph.
Tuesday afternoon, the Category 4 hurricane was still on the coast, about 15 miles south-southwest of coastal Puerto Cabezas or Bilwi, and it was moving west near 5 mph.
Landfall came hours after it had been expected. Eta's eye had hovered just offshore through the night and Tuesday morning. The unceasing winds uprooted trees and ripped roofs apart, scattering corrugated metal through the streets of Bilwi, the main coastal city in the region. The city's regional hospital abandoned its building, moving patients to a local technical school campus.
Guillermo González, director of the country's 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.
About 10,000 people were in shelters in Bilwi, the main coastal city in the region, and an equal amount were sheltered in smaller towns, he said. The area had already been lashed with strong winds and heavy rain for hours as the storm's eye hovered just offshore.
Authorities in Nicaragua and Honduras had moved people Monday from outer islands and low-lying areas to shelters. Residents scrambled to shore up their homes, but few structures along Nicaragua's remote Caribbean coast were built to withstand such force.
This could be only the beginning of Eta's destruction. The storm was forecast to spend the week meandering over Central America dumping rain measured in feet not inches.
It is the eighth Atlantic storm this season to hit the meteorologists' definition for rapid intensification — a gain of 35 mph in wind speed in just 24 hours. It's also the fifth to reach major hurricane status.
Eta is the 28th named Atlantic storm this season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. It's the first time the Greek letter Eta has been used as a storm name.
Last week Hurricane Zeta came ashore on the southern Louisiana coastline after roaring through the Caribbean:
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