MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Iota should strengthen into a major hurricane by the time it smashes into the jungles of the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua and Honduras on Monday, a region still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Eta.
Iota formed on Friday afternoon, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said it could be blowing winds of up to 120 miles per hour (193 kph) when it collides with Central America, two weeks after Eta battered the area.
"Flooding and landslides from heavy rainfall could be significant across Central America given recovery efforts under way after Hurricane Eta," the NHC said.
Eta sparked floods and mudslides that killed scores of people across a huge swathe of terrain stretching from Panama to southern Mexico.
No area was harder hit than the central Guatemalan region of Alta Verapaz, where a mountain partly collapsed onto the village of Queja, killing and burying alive dozens of residents.
At 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) Iota was about 335 miles (539 km) south-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica packing maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (64 kph) It was moving at a slow 3 mph (5 kph) in a west-southwest direction.
Dangerous winds, rising sea levels and downpours could menace the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras from Sunday night, the Miami-based NHC said.
The center expected to issue hurricane watches for portions of those areas by late Friday or early Saturday.
Through Wednesday morning, Iota could spark life-threatening flash flooding and cause rivers to burst their banks in parts of Haiti, Jamaica and Central America, the NHC said.
In Honduras, evacuations were already under way in Sula Valley, and officials said they would on Saturday start letting water out of a major dam in anticipation of Iota, the record-breaking 30th storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito, Miguel Angel Gutierrez, Gustavo Palencia and Ismael Lopez)