Storm Iota weakens in Central America, but flooding and death toll increase

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Unleashing torrential flooding even as it weakened, Storm Iota swept through Central America on Tuesday, causing swollen rivers to burst, knocking roofs down on the streets and killing at least nine people in the region.The strongest storm on record to reach Nicaragua, Iota hit the coast late Monday, bringing winds of nearly 249 km / h and inundating villages still reeling from Hurricane Eta two weeks ago.

But on Tuesday night, winds had dropped to 80 km / h as Iota weakened to a tropical storm, but heavy rains continued, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Iota was flooding already saturated towns and villages as it moved inland in southern Honduras and authorities reported scores of people were missing, with some of the worst affected areas still cut off.

“We are inundated everywhere. The rain lasted most of the night and now it stops for an hour and then returns for two to three hours, ”said Marcelo Herrera, mayor of Wampusirpi, a municipality in the interior of northeastern Honduras crossed by people. rivers and streams.

On Tuesday, a girl walks past homes damaged by Hurricane Iota in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. Iota flooded already saturated towns and villages as it moved inland to southern Honduras. (Oswaldo Rivas / Reuters)

“We need food and water for the people because we lost our crops with Eta,” he told Reuters.

13,000 people sought refuge in shelters

The Honduran government on Tuesday closed bridges and highways across the country, while opening more than 600 shelters where some 13,000 residents have taken refuge.

Eta and Iota’s double hit marked the first time two major hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic Basin in November since records began. The Nicaraguan port of Puerto Cabezas, still partially inundated and littered with debris left by Eta, again suffered from the blow.

Frightened residents huddled in shelters.

“We could die,” Inocencia Smith said in one of the shelters. “There is nothing to eat at all,” she continued, noting that Eta had destroyed local farms.

Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo said at least six people had died as they were dragged down by raging rivers.

The wind blew off the roof of a makeshift hospital. Patients in intensive care were evacuated, including two women who gave birth during the first rains on Monday, Nicaraguan officials said.

Women walk in the rain caused by Hurricane Iota in La Lima, Honduras on Tuesday. The Honduran government on Tuesday closed bridges and highways across the country, while opening more than 600 shelters where some 13,000 residents have taken refuge. (Delmer Martinez / The Associated Press)

‘In the hands of God’

Two people have died on the island of Providencia, part of Colombia’s Caribbean archipelago near the coast of Central America, after being cut off by Iota, President Ivan Duque said Tuesday evening.

Almost all of Providencia’s infrastructure – which houses some 6,000 people – has been damaged or destroyed.

The Panamanian government said one person died in its western region of Ngabe-Bugle due to conditions caused by the storm.

A resident of Brus Laguna on the Honduran coast told local radio a boy was killed by a fallen tree, although the mayor, Teonela Wood, said she had no death report .

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said the Iota flooding risked causing disaster after Eta.

Two people died on the island of Providencia, part of Colombia’s Caribbean archipelago near the coast of Central America, after being cut off by Iota. In this photo released by the Colombian Presidency, President Ivan Duque, second from left, visits the island on Tuesday. (Nicolas Galeano / Colombia Presidential Press Office / The Associated Press)

“We are very concerned about the potential for deadly landslides in these areas, as the ground is already completely saturated,” International Federation spokesman Matthew Cochrane said at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. .

About 100,000 Nicaraguans and Hondurans were evacuated from their homes, authorities said.

Iota was about 56 kilometers southeast of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, the NHC said, moving west at 19 km / h and could cause “sudden flooding and catastrophic landslides” in the region. city.

The center said Iota could dump up to 76 centimeters of rain in some areas.

“We are in the hands of God. If I have to climb trees, I will, ”said Jaime Cabal Cu, a farmer from Guatemala’s Izabal province. “We have no food, but we will wait here for the hurricane that we ask God to stop coming. “

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