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Two Weeks After Hurricane Eta, Iota Devastates Central America

Direct Relief is providing nearly $10 million in aid after the Category 4 storm left entire communities underwater and 200,000 displaced.

Hurricane Iota, a Category 4 storm, left whole neighborhoods underwater in Honduras. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Alexander Sánchez Paz)
Hurricane Iota, a Category 4 storm, left whole neighborhoods underwater in Honduras. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Alexander Sánchez Paz)

Hurricane Iota, thought to be the strongest storm ever to strike Nicaragua, slammed into the country’s Caribbean coast on Monday evening as a Category 4 hurricane.

The storm made landfall in an almost identical location – and with similar force – to that of Hurricane Eta two weeks earlier.

To date, Direct Relief has dispatched seven emergency shipments, with support from FedEx, to on-the-ground partners in Honduras and Nicaragua, totaling 62 pallets and with a value of almost $10 million. The pallets contained a large variety of medicines and supplies, including antibiotics, antifungals, cardiovascular medicines, vitamins, PPE, and wound care supplies.

The death toll from Hurricane Eta is 185, with reported deaths in eight countries, including the United States. While the current death toll from Iota stands at 31, with 40 reported missing, those numbers are thought to be low due to compromised telecommunications limiting the dissemination of information, and are expected to increase in the coming days and weeks.

Across Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, over 200,000 people have been displaced, either temporarily or semi-permanently.

Before reaching the Nicaraguan mainland, Iota blew over the tiny Colombian island of Providencia (population approximately 5,000), where Colombian authorities report that one person was killed and 98% of the island’s infrastructure seriously affected. Providencia’s one hospital is reported to be largely inoperable.

By early Wednesday, Iota had significantly weakened as it passed over mainland Central America, finally dissipating over El Salvador.

However, while the winds decreased significantly about 20 hours after making landfall, the rainfall did not. The storm’s center passed south of Tegucigalpa, Honduras’s capital. There, it dropped extremely heavy rains where tens of thousands of people live in low-lying, flood-prone areas and in hillside neighborhoods prone to landslides.

All in all, Iota drenched most of Nicaragua and Honduras and large parts of Guatemala; it also caused flooding even in Panama and Costa Rica.

“The whole Sula Valley is destroyed. Three satellite cities….are completely covered by water and thousands and thousands of people left homeless. Our already fragile economy [is] gone and it will take years to recover, if it ever happens,” wrote a Direct Relief partner based in Honduras.

Governments have opened over 1,000 shelters for evacuees across the most affected areas. However, accessing basic commodities, such as food, clean drinking water, basic medicines, and masks for Covid-19 protection, has proven difficult. As roads and even major highways remain flooded, supply chains to shelters and isolated communities are heavily compromised.

Medical aid staged in Direct Relief's warehouse on Nov. 10, 2020, before being deployed to Honduras in response to hurricanes in the region. (Tony Morain/Direct Relief)
Medical aid staged in Direct Relief’s warehouse on Nov. 10, 2020, before being deployed to Honduras in response to hurricanes in the region. (Tony Morain/Direct Relief)

Direct Relief has received requests for support from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Colombia as governments, NGOs, and emergency medical teams work to respond to the needs of displaced communities. The organization is in the process of preparing two additional shipments, both containing emergency medical kits, to be sent to the Colombian island of Providencia and to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

In addition, Direct Relief is providing emergency operating grants to two long-term partners in Honduras, Proyecto Aldea Global and Siempre Unidos, both of which are working tirelessly to meet medical needs in their communities.

The organization will continue to monitor the impact from Hurricanes Eta and Iota and respond as needed.

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