TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Storm Iota unleashed devastating flooding in areas already waterlogged with rain on Wednesday, forcing hundreds of thousands of people across Central America to flee their homes as scenes of destruction dotted the already impoverished region.
Authorities confirmed more than two dozen dead by Wednesday evening, and the death toll is expected to keep rising as rescuers reach more isolated communities and more damage is documented.
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.
Viral video on Wednesday showed 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.
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.
While Iota had largely dissipated over El Salvador on Wednesday, authorities across Nicaragua and Honduras were still battling to cope with the fallout from days of heavy rainfall.
Central American authorities have confirmed 25 deaths so far. The majority of the victims 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 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.
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.
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.
Some 160,000 Nicaraguans and 70,000 Hondurans have been forced to flee to shelters.
Despite the dissolution of Iota, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the storm’s remnants could trigger more flooding and mudslides across Central America through Thursday.
The remnants of Iota were drifting west toward the Pacific Ocean, according to the NHC.
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