TEGUCIGALPA/MEXICO CITY • Storm Iota unleashed devastating floods across Central America on Wednesday in areas already waterlogged, forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in a disaster that could spur migration to the United States.
More than 30 people 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 swelling rivers and triggering mudslides, cities like the Honduran industrial hub of San Pedro Sula have also been hit hard. The city's airport was completely flooded, video posted on social media showed.
The strongest storm on record 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 devastation would accelerate migration to the US over the next few months. "That shouldn't surprise us," she said.
While Iota had largely dissipated over El Salvador on Wednesday, the authorities across Nicaragua and Honduras were struggling with the fallout from days of heavy rain. Most of the dead were in Nicaragua, where the authorities said a mother and her four children were swept away by a river that overflowed its banks, while a landslide in the north killed at least eight people, with many missing.
In La Dalia, a rural outpost in northern Nicaragua, police would let only the state media pass where mudslides are believed to have trapped some residents.
The US National Hurricane Centre said Iota's remnants could trigger more flooding and mudslides across Central America through yesterday as it drifted west towards the Pacific Ocean.
In Nicaragua's coastal Bilwi city, Iota demolished much of the infrastructure in the city, said local government official Yamil Zapata. "What Eta left standing, this hurricane came and finished it off," Mr Zapata said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE