TEGUCIGALPA/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – 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, with jetways looking more like docks and nearby tree tops barely visible above a sea of muddy water, 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.
Karen Valladares, the head of Honduras’ FONAMIH migrants agency, warned that the devastation from the storms would accelerate migration to the United States over the next few months.
“That shouldn’t surprise us,” she said.
While Iota had largely dissipated over El Salvador on Wednesday, authorities across Nicaragua and Honduras were struggling with the fallout from the days of heavy rain.
Most of the dead were 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 killed at least eight people, with many missing.
In La Dalia, a rural outpost in northern Nicaragua, police would only let state media to pass where mudslides are believed to have trapped some residents.
In Honduras, five members of a family, including three children, were buried in a landslide that swept their home away in the western department of Ocotepeque, near the border with El Salvador and Guatemala, police said.
Two deaths have been confirmed in Panama and one in El Salvador.
In Colombia, authorities said two people were killed when the storm battered its Caribbean islands.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Iota’s remnants could trigger more flooding and mudslides across Central America through Thursday as it drifted west toward the Pacific Ocean.
(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Ismael Lopez in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Wilmer Lopez in Puerto Cabezas, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City and Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Robert Birsel)