Central America faces havoc, more than 30 killed from Storm Iota

Storm Iota unleashed flash floods in areas already waterlogged with rain, forcing tens of thousands of people across Central America to flee their homes with a death toll feared to be over 20 by Wednesday morning.
Soldiers lower a boat into the water to help evacuate people after flooding caused by Storm Iota in the municipality of La Lima in Honduras on Nov 18, 2020.
Soldiers lower a boat into the water to help evacuate people after flooding caused by Storm Iota in the municipality of La Lima in Honduras on Nov 18, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS (REUTERS) - Storm Iota unleashed devastating flooding in areas already waterlogged with rain on Wednesday (Nov 18), forcing hundreds of thousands of people across Central America to flee their homes as scenes of destruction dotted the already impoverished region.

More than 30 were killed and the toll in the impoverished region was expected to rise as rescue workers reach isolated communities.

While numerous villages from northern Colombia to southern Mexico have seen record rainfall leading to swollen rivers and sudden mudslides, cities like Honduran industrial hub San Pedro Sula have also been hit hard.

The city's airport completely flooded, with jetways looking more like docks and nearby tree tops barely visible, all of it smothered by muddy water.

The strongest storm on record ever to hit Nicaragua, Iota struck the coast late on Monday, unleashing Category 5 magnitude winds and inundating low-lying areas still reeling from the impact two weeks ago of Eta, another major hurricane.

Some 160,000 Nicaraguans and 70,000 Hondurans have been forced to flee to shelters.

Ms Karen Valladares, the head of Honduras' Fonamih migrants agency, warned that the storms' accumulated devastation "will accelerate" local migration to the United States over the next few months.

"That shouldn't surprise us," she said.

While Iota had largely dissipated over El Salvador on Wednesday, authorities across Nicaragua and Honduras were struggling with the fallout from the days of heavy rain. 

Most of the dead are in Nicaragua, where authorities say a mother and her four children were swept away by a river that overflowed its banks, while a landslide in the north of the country killed at least eight people, with many more missing.

In La Dalia, a rural outpost in northern Nicaragua, local police would only let state media to pass where mudslides are believed to have trapped some residents.

In Honduras, five members of a family, including three children, were buried alive after a landslide swept away their home in the western department of Ocotepeque near the border with El Salvador and Guatemala, according to police.

Two deaths have been confirmed in Panama and one in El Salvador.

In Colombia, authorities said two people died when the storm battered the islands of the country's Caribbean archipelago near the coast of Central America, bringing the storm's total death toll to at least 27 people.

The US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said the storm's remnants could trigger more flooding and mudslides across Central America through Thursday as it drifted west toward the Pacific Ocean.