MANAGUA – The sun is shining on Thursday in the wake of Hurricane Iota, but residents on the stretch of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast that felt the full force of the Category 4 storm are palpably more discouraged than they were two weeks ago after surviving Hurricane Eta.
“Morale is through the floor,” 20-year-old Randy Casanova told EFE from the Bilwi area of Puerto Cabezas, the principal town in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region.
Pending an official appraisal of the damage, the level of devastation is clear: trees and power poles toppled, streets strewn with rubble and debris, the municipal stadium in ruins and the docks, totally destroyed.
“There is a lot of destruction, a lot of damage in the matter of housing, the water-supply system, social infrastructure, health centers, schools, churches,” according to Cairo Jarquin, head of emergency management for Catholic Relief Services in Nicaragua.
Eta, which made landfall on Nov. 3, caused $178 million in material losses, equivalent to 1.5 percent of Nicaragua’s gross domestic product, Finance Minister Ivan Acosta said on Thursday.
Nearly 10 percent of that total corresponds to 1,890 leveled homes in Puerto Cabezas, where another 8,700 residences suffered varying degrees of damage.
“With Eta, the experience was awful when it was tearing the roof off the house. It was horrible. The panic, the fear, it attacked us. But Iota comes with rain and stronger winds, it was a horrible moment,” Casanova said.
“Thank God our house is concrete, normally here they are of wood,” he said.
Iota struck Nicaragua late Monday with maximum sustained winds of 250 km/h (155 mph), battering the same areas that were slammed two weeks ago by Eta, also a Category 4 hurricane.
“Many communities – talking about the coast, all of those on the seacoast – where two hurricanes came in, I believe not much is left standing,” Jarquin said. “The little that might have remained from Eta, Iota must have destroyed it.”
Some 38,000 people are staying in 250 shelters in Bilwi.
“There is a shelter where I live. They bring them food, but not enough,” Bilwi resident Azucena Hompris tells EFE. “Those people ended up with nothing, only what they could take. Where will they go if they don’t have a house?”
The COVID-19 Independent Observatory, a group comprising doctors and volunteers, said that authorities have not done enough to guard against the spread of the virus in the shelters, which are overcrowded and lack masks, disinfectant and a secure supply of clean water.
“Eta damaged my house on one side. I took out a loan and we repaired it. But Iota comes and caves-in the side we didn’t reinforce, it was tough,” Hompris says. “My family lives from the sea and there’s no work right now.”
“Everything is more expensive and the aid that comes is shared only among the Sandinistas,” she said, referring to supporters of Nicaragua’s governing party.
Opposition groups have echoed that accusation, calling on Nicaraguans to bypass authorities and organize on their own to aid hurricane survivors.
The government, which blames Eta and Iota for 18 deaths, says that its focus for the moment is on saving lives.