TEGUCIGALPA/MEXICO CITY—The death toll from storm Iota is slowly rising in Central America as authorities on Thursday said they had recovered more bodies buried in landslides triggered by flooding that swept through the already waterlogged region earlier this week.
Nearly 40 people were killed across Central America and Colombia, and the toll is expected to rise as rescue workers reach isolated communities. Most of the deaths have occurred in Nicaragua and Honduras.
The strongest storm on record to hit Nicaragua, Iota struck the coast late on Monday as a Category 4 hurricane. It inundated low-lying areas still reeling from the impact two weeks ago of Eta, another major hurricane that killed dozens of people in the region.
On Thursday morning, Honduran authorities raised the death toll to 14 after confirming that eight members of two families, including four children, were killed when a landslide buried their homes in a village in a mountainous region populated by indigenous Lencas near the border with El Salvador.
In Nicaragua, where a total of 18 people have been confirmed dead, rescue efforts continue after a landslide in the north of the country killed eight people, with more missing.
While Iota largely dissipated over El Salvador on Wednesday, authorities struggled to cope with the fallout from days of heavy rain.
Numerous villages from northern Colombia to southern Mexico saw record rainfall swell rivers and trigger mudslides. Cities like the Honduran industrial hub of San Pedro Sula were also hit hard, with the city’s airport completely flooded and jetways looking more like docks, video posted on social media showed.
Some 160,000 Nicaraguans and 70,000 Hondurans have been forced to flee to shelters, where aid workers worry the chaotic conditions could lead fresh outbreaks of COVID-19.
Experts say the destruction caused by the unprecedented 2020 hurricane season in Central America could spur more migration out of a region already coping with insecurity and an economic crisis triggered by coronavirus pandemic-related lockdowns imposed earlier this year.
“I think you’re going to be seeing an increase in migration month after month after month because of the compounding nature of this,” Giovanni Bassu, the regional representative for Central America for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told Reuters.
“One storm after another is a very sad metaphor for the much broader phenomenon” driving migration out of northern Central America, he added.
By Gustavo Palencia and Ismael Lopez