The storm brought “catastrophic winds, life-threatening storm surge, and torrential rainfall,” the National Hurricane Center said. At least four adults and two minors were killed in Nicaragua, which lost electrical power along almost its entire coast. Tens of thousands of people took refuge in government shelters.
At least two people died on the Colombian island of Providencia, where 112 people were evacuated on Tuesday, CNN reports. The infrastructure on the island was completely wiped out. It is the first recorded Category 5 storm to hit the island and its neighbor San Andres.
Iota is the 30th named storm this season, and the strongest storm of the season. It follows soon after the Nov. 4 landfall of Hurricane Eta, which hit Nicaragua, Guatemala, and southern Belize.
“The situation in Honduras is already critical,” Walsh said before Iota’s landfall. “After Eta came through, thousands of people were displaced from their homes in the north. They’re living in shelters now. They’ve lost everything.”
“In more vulnerable rural communities, farmers lost their crops. This was just before they were going to harvest their bean crops and their corn, two basic staples,” said Walsh.
“Iota is expected to be worse. It is going right through the center of the country,” he said. “We’re bracing for the worst.”
Timothy Hansell, manager of Catholic Relief Services in Nicaragua, told National Public Radio that the relief agency aims to provide cleaning supplies and toilet paper to local residents, rebuild homes, and help farmers recover.
Caribbean coastal indigenous communities were among the hardest hit by Eta’s strong winds and floodwaters, he said. Many of their homes were destroyed. Nicaraguan farmers in the northern and central parts of the country lost as much as 50% of their bean crops, with heavy damage to rice, corn and vegetables.
Likewise, the immediate situation in Honduras is “a very, very critical situation,” Walsh said.
Catholic Relief Services is the U.S. bishops’ foreign relief agency. There are about 60 CRS staff based in Nicaragua’s national capital of Tegucigalpa, the city of San Pedro, and La Esperanza in the west of the country. They normally focus on improving agriculture, water supply and education. Aiding youth vulnerable to exploitation and unemployment is another area of their work.
“All of these programs are being interrupted now because of the emergency,” Walsh said. “We’re using whatever funding we can to provide immediate assistance for the families that have been so badly affected.”
There is great need for drinking water, food supplies, and biosafety equipment like masks, antiseptic gel and soap. There are fears that crowding at hurricane shelters will lead to the spread of coronavirus infections.
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“People who are in shelters, for the most part, had to leave their homes without anything, much less a mask,” Walsh explained. “The conditions for propagation of COVID are rife in those shelters.”
According to Walsh, Honduras “is suffering the effects of climate change, and it is not responsible for this.”
“It is our duty as human beings to respond to that in a way that recognizes our common humanity,” he said.
Scientists say a changing climate and hotter oceans have contributed to stronger hurricanes. The water in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico is consistently 2 degrees hotter than a century ago, according to National Public Radio.
“Honduras is starting from a very vulnerable point to begin with,” Walsh continued. “Even without the hurricanes, even without COVID, Honduras was teetering on the edge because it’s such a poor country and it’s been so hard hit by climate change.”
The country is suffering an “acute food insecurity situation” with low food supplies after several seasons of drought.