BOGOTA – The Colombian island of Providencia, a 17-square-kilometer paradise in the Caribbean Sea, has been almost entirely devastated by the powerful Hurricane Iota, which destroyed infrastructure and left at least two people dead and one missing, as President Ivan Duque verified on Tuesday.
“We have a severe impact on the infrastructure, it is true – we have destruction of a large part of the housing infrastructure,” said the president, who visited the islands of San Andres and Providencia, located off the coast of Nicaragua, more than 700 kilometers from mainland Colombia.
In the first released images of Providencia, about 90 kilometers northeast of the archipelago’s main island of San Andres, houses were missing roofs, posts and fallen trees were strewn in streets covered with debris, and boats had been dragged by winds up to homes.
“The island was destroyed and all the houses were erased. No house was left standing. Everything is destroyed,” said Adrian Villamizar, pastor of the Adventist Church who was evacuated from Providencia, an island inhabited by some 5,000 people that still has no communication with the rest of the country.
At dawn on Monday, Providencia took the impact of a category 5 Iota, which, with winds of 250 kilometers per hour, plowed from east to west towards Nicaragua.
According to Villamizar, the passage of Iota “had about two impressive cycles, the first until two in the morning,” and when they thought that the worst was over, “from four to six, especially at six in the morning,” when there was another onslaught in which they thought “we were not going to make it.”
During his visit to the archipelago, Duque was able to verify the devastating toll that the mayor of Providencia, Jorge Norberto Gari Hooker, provided him with on Monday – that the force of the hurricane destroyed almost all of the constructions of the island.
The president confirmed that Iota had left two people dead, one in Providencia and the other on the nearby island of Santa Catalina.
“There is a person who is missing and a search is being carried out,” added the president, who said that some of the wounded had already been evacuated to San Andres in the same Colombian Air Force plane that had carried him.
Duque first landed on the presidential plane at the Gustavo Rojas Pinilla airport in San Andres, where he took a tour of the island to see the damage caused by the hurricane, which although great, was less than the devastation suffered by Providencia.
He then boarded a smaller Air Force plane that took him to the El Embrujo air terminal in Providencia, where he delivered aid and listened to survivors.
While the president was touring the island, the plane returned to San Andres to evacuate dozens of people, including sick, wounded and tourists who had been trapped.
“It is destroyed. In Providencia there is not a single house that is well – all the houses are destroyed, all the vegetation is destroyed,” said Mateo Posada, a tourist from Medellin who was also evacuated to San Andres.
According to Posada, the hotel in which he was staying with approximately 12 other tourists “had something like a bunker that had been designed for this” where they took refuge and, after the storm passed, they were able to help other people.
Duque assured that his government was mobilizing all human and technical resources to help victims and begin reconstruction.
A Navy frigate, ARC Antioquia, arrived in Providencia with food, medicine and blankets.
The frigate ARC Independiente also set sail on Monday night from Cartagena with 15 tons of humanitarian aid and more than 190 personnel from the Navy, Army, Risk Management Unit, the Red Cross and experts in emergency care, while the government prepared to send more ships and planes.
After its devastating passage through the Colombian archipelago, the hurricane continued through the Caribbean to Nicaragua, where it also caused extensive damage before losing strength and was degraded to a tropical storm.