MANAGUA/TEGUCIGALPA/BOGOTA – What is now Tropical Depression Iota killed at least 24 people on its path through Nicaragua, Honduras and the Colombian Caribbean islands, their respective governments said on Wednesday.
Iota, which made landfall late Monday in Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 250km/h (155 mph), pounded the same areas that were slammed two weeks ago by Eta, also a Cat 4.
The death toll from Iota in Nicaragua stands at 16, while four other people are listed as missing, Vice President Rosario Murrillo told a press conference in Managua.
Seven people perished in a mudslide in the northern province of Matagalpa. All of the victims belonged to two families dwelling on the side of a mountain 1,745m (5,721ft) above sea-level.
“They were settled in a high-risk zone. In previous years, they were presented with proposals for relocation, they did not accept them,” Murrillo said, adding that the families also rejected an appeal to evacuate ahead of Iota’s arrival.
Several other people were swept away by a rain-swollen river in Carazo province, while two occupants of a taxi died when a tree fell on the vehicle.
Authorities in Honduras, where Eta killed 74 people, said on Wednesday that Iota caused six fatalities in the provinces of Ocotepeque and Intibuca.
Honduran civil defense agency said that an aquatic rescue team was deployed to areas where flooding associated 30th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season left people stranded on the roofs of their homes.
Lingering bands of rain “are saturating the rivers” and causing them to burst their banks, Max Gonzalez, head of the Copeco emergency management office, said during a briefing.
Entire communities have been cut off by floods and landslides have blocked highways.
The storm has affected more than 357,000 Hondurans, Copeco operations chief Gonzalo Funes said, including some 61,000 who sought refuge in government shelters after their homes were left uninhabitable.
So far, Tegucigalpa has been spared the heaviest rains, but authorities are keeping a close eye on the rising Choluteca River as it could pose a threat to bridges linking the capital with the neighboring city of Comayagüela.
Floods driven by Iota have forced the suspension of flights to and from Ramon Villeda Morales International Airport, serving San Pedro Sula, the country’s main business hub.
Just last week, a runway of Villeda Morales was set up to receive planes bringing humanitarian aid in the wake of Hurricane Eta.
More than 3,400 hectares (8,395 acres) of coffee crops were flooded by Iota’s rains, representing the loss of 4.12 million kg (9.09 million lbs.) of beans.
Analysts with Fosdeh, a civic group focused on Honduras’ external debt, say that the cumulative damage from Eta and Iota could exceed $10 billion.
Meanwhile, three days after Hurricane Iota hit the Caribbean archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina, the Colombian authorities were still trying to restore essential services on the islands mired in destruction and where two people died and one is missing.
The hurricane, the first category 5 to hit the country, affected the three islands with a population of about 65,000, leaving thousands homeless as well as incalculable losses.
Such was the magnitude of the catastrophe that Colombian President Ivan Duque declared on Wednesday a year-long disaster decree for the archipelago, with which he hopes to mitigate the effects of the emergency, assist the affected population and restore the health, energy, communication and water services.
Iota stormed the hardest-hit island of Providencia on Monday, wiping out almost all of its infrastructure, leaving only rubble, fallen trees, destroyed houses and injured people.
To face the emergency, the president announced that the authorities will focus first on delivering humanitarian aid, removing debris, offering health care, and restoring communications, the flow of energy and the supply of water.
The president launched a 100-day reconstruction plan, although he did not rule out that the timeframe would be extended given the level of damage suffered by the islands.