Record storm Iota batters Central America, leaving floods in its wake

PUERTO CABEZAS, NICARAGUA (REUTERS) – Packing record-breaking winds and unleashing torrential floods, storm Iota hit Central America on Tuesday (Nov 17), causing swollen rivers to burst their banks, flipping roofs onto streets, and killing at least three people.

The strongest storm on record to reach Nicaragua, Iota struck the coast late on Monday, bringing winds of nearly 249kmh and flooding villages still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Eta two weeks ago.

By midday, the winds had fallen to 105kmh as Iota weakened to a tropical storm, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said. But Iota continued bringing down heavy rains as it moved inland toward southern Honduras.

“We’re flooded everywhere, the rain lasted almost all night and now it stops for an hour then comes back for two to three hours,” said Mr Marcelo Herrera, mayor of Wampusirpi, a municipality in the interior of north-east Honduras crossed by rivers and streams.

“We need food and water for the population, because we lost our crops with Eta,” he told Reuters.

The double punch of Eta and Iota marked the first time two major hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic basin in November since records began.

The Nicaraguan port of Puerto Cabezas, still partly flooded and strewn with debris left by Eta, again bore the brunt of the hit.

Frightened residents huddled in shelters.

“We could die,” said Ms Inocencia Smith at one of the shelters. “There is nothing to eat at all,” she added, noting Eta had destroyed local farms.

The wind tore the roof off a makeshift hospital. Patients in intensive care were evacuated, including two women who gave birth during the first rains on Monday, the government said.

Mr Guillermo Gonzalez, head of Nicaragua’s disaster management agency Sinapred, said he had received reports of damage to houses and roofs, fallen power lines and overflowing rivers, but no deaths.

Two people died on Providencia island, part of Colombia’s Caribbean archipelago near the coast of Central America, after it was clipped by Iota, President Ivan Duque said on Tuesday evening.

An additional person is missing, Mr Duque said after a visit to the island, promising speedy shipment of humanitarian aid and removal of debris.

Nearly all of the infrastructure on Providencia – home to some 6,000 people – has been damaged or destroyed.

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“We have seen a severe impact on infrastructure,” Mr Duque said on his nightly television broadcast. “The community, prevention mechanisms, shelters and alerts, meant there was not a substantial loss of human life.”

Panama’s government said a person had died in its western Ngabe-Bugle region due to conditions caused by the storm.

A resident of Brus Laguna on the Honduran coast told local radio a boy was killed by a falling tree, though the mayor, Ms Teonela Wood, said she had no reports of fatalities.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said flooding from Iota risked causing disaster after Eta.

“We are very concerned about the potential for deadly landslides in these areas as the soil is already completely saturated,” IFRC spokesman Matthew Cochrane told a media briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.

About 40,000 people in Nicaragua and 80,000 in Honduras were evacuated from their homes, authorities said.

By early afternoon, Iota was about 169km east of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, the NHC said, adding that Iota could dump up to 76cm of rain in some areas.

“We are in the hands of God. If I have to climb up trees, I’ll do it,” said Ms Jaime Cabal Cu, a farmer in Guatemala’s Izabal province. “We don’t have food, but we are going to wait here for the hurricane that we’re asking God to stop from coming.”

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