The “extremely dangerous” hurricane came ashore just south of the city of Puerto Cabezas, on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, with “life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and flash flooding occurring over portions of Central America,” the NHC said in an advisory.
The storm had maximum sustained winds near 140 mph at landfall, the NHC said. Hours later, it had weakened two notches to a Category 2 storm with 110 mph winds.
The storm pulled roofs off houses, took down trees and power lines and is causing flooding in Puerto Cabezas, a city in one of Nicaragua’s poorest regions, Reuters reported. The news outlet cited Guillermo Gonzalez, the chief of the nation’s disaster management agency.
“We’re really afraid. There are fallen poles, there’s flooding, roofs torn off,” said Puerto Cabezas resident Carmen Enriquez, according to Reuters.
A local priest told Reuters earlier that the city was without power and government shelters were at capacity.
To the north, homes also were being flooded in Lancetilla, Honduras, amid heavy rains, pictures distributed by Getty Images show.
Rivers were overflowing, cities and towns were flooding and landslides were covering roads in Honduras, Reuters reported.
A hurricane warning was in effect for a roughly 150-mile stretch of Nicaraguan coastline, from the Honduras/Nicaragua border south to Sandy Bay Sirpi on east-central Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.
The storm could deliver life-threatening conditions in Nicaragua and other Central American nations for days, including nearly 3 feet of rain in isolated parts of Nicaragua and Honduras through this week, the NHC said.
“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.
Almost half a million children are among the more than 1.2 million people who could be affected by the storm, according to UNICEF, which put emergency supplies in place and developed a plan to respond to the needs of children and families, according to a statement from the agency.
Eta is expected to weaken further Tuesday night, but the rainfall will continue for the next few days.
The current forecast has the storm meandering the mountains of Nicaragua and Honduras before heading north toward Belize as a depression by Friday. The precise track and intensity of the storm remains uncertain after then. Eta is expected to move over the Caribbean later in the week and could be over Cuba by Sunday and then threaten South Florida, the NHC said.
Honduras is no longer under a hurricane warning, but remains under a tropical storm warning, the NHC said.
The storm has the potential to be one of the worst flooding events Nicaragua has seen since Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed more than 10,000 people.
Torrential rain expected across Central America
Torrential rain, and resulting flooding and landslides, are expected to be among the main threats. The wind and storm surge threat should diminish throughout Tuesday, but the rain will last well into the week.
Rain forecasts through Sunday morning, according to the NHC:
• Much of Nicaragua and Honduras: Generally 15-25 inches, with isolated amounts up to 35 inches.
• Eastern Guatemala and Belize: Generally 10-20 inches, with isolated amounts up to 25 inches.
• Parts of Panama and Costa Rica: Generally 10-15 inches, with isolated amounts up to 25 inches.
• El Salvador and southeastern Mexico: Generally 5-10 inches, with isolated amounts up to 15 inches.
• Jamaica, southern Haiti, and the Cayman Islands: Generally 3-5 additional inches, with isolated storm totals over 15 inches.
As the 28th named storm in the Atlantic this season, it ties the record for the number of named storms in a single season set back in 2005.
CNN’s Brandon Miller, Madeline Holcombe, Michael Guy, Taylor Ward and Tyler Mauldin contributed to this report.