8 dead, millions face humanitarian crisis as Hurricane Iota slams Central America

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Nov. 17 (UPI) — At least eight people are dead and several countries in Central America teeter on the precipice of a humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Iota slammed the region overnight Monday.

The storm made landfall in Nicaragua at 10:40 p.m. Monday as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds, making it not only the strongest tropical cyclone of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, but the strongest November hurricane to hit the Central American country on record, according to a tweet for Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.

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Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s vice president, said Tuesday that four adults and two minors were killed by the storm and Colombian President Ivan Duque also said two people were killed and a third was still missing, CNN reported.

The storm has since weakened, and as of 9 p.m. CST Tuesday, Iota was packing only 40 mph winds about 25 miles south-southwest of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

The region was already scrambling to recover from Eta, which hit the country less than two weeks ago, setting records as the strongest storm to bash Nicaragua until Iota came along.

Duque said Tuesday morning in a press conference that they had prepared for infrastructure to be devastated by the storm, and he said late Tuesday that they have begun rebuilding in Providencia Island, which was severely damaged.

“We began to remove rubble from the island, accelerate delivery of humanitarian aid and tents to enable family spaces,” he said via Twitter.

Earlier, the government said 98% of the island’s infrastructure had been destroyed, Al Jazeera reported.

In Honduras, the military tweeted pictures of destruction and authorities conducting hundreds of evacuations.

Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador already suffering from the effects of Eta and the coronavirus were now forced closer toward an even larger humanitarian crisis, Oxfam International said in a statement calling on the international community for aid.

Six million people were only impacted by Eta when Iota hit, it said.

“Millions of people have already lost everything they had,” said Asier Hernando, Oxfam’s regional director in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Gloria Garcia Parra, the charity organization’s Latin America humanitarian coordinator, said they had to suspend relief operations because of Iota but that workers were on the ground assessing the damage.

World Vision, a Christian organization, said more than 2 million were in the path of Iota when it hit, calling on governments, donors, businesses and international aid agencies to provide funds to respond to the emergency.

“The impact of Eta and now Iota bring further risk of COVID-19 spreading as families are forced to leave their homes” Jose Nelson Chavez, the regional advisor in emergencies for World Vision in Latin America, said in a statement.

Chavez said World Vision’s main focus now is to ensure people impacted are safe from the spread of COVID-19 and is preparing to assist 124,299 families with humanitarian aid.