Unleashing torrential floods even as it weakened, Hurricane Iota churned through Central America on Tuesday, causing swollen rivers to burst their banks, flipping roofs onto streets and killing at least nine people across the region.
The strongest storm on record to reach Nicaragua, Iota struck the coast late on Monday, bringing winds of nearly 249kmph (155mph) and flooding villages still reeling from the effect of Hurricane Eta two weeks ago.
But by Tuesday night, the winds had dropped to 80kmph (50mph) as Iota weakened to a tropical storm but heavy rainfall continued, the US National Hurricane Center said.
Iota was drenching already saturated towns and villages as it moved inland over southern Honduras and as authorities reported many people missing with some of the worst-hit areas still cut off.
The Honduran government closed bridges and highways across the country on Tuesday, while opening more than 600 shelters where some 13,000 residents sought refuge.
The double punch of Eta and Iota marked the first time two major hurricanes had formed in the Atlantic basin in November since records began. The Nicaraguan port of Puerto Cabezas, still partly flooded and strewn with debris left by Eta, again bore the brunt of the hit.
Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo said at least six people had died as they were dragged down by raging rivers.
Two people died on Providencia Island, part of Colombia’s Caribbean archipelago near the coast of Central America, after it was clipped by Iota, President Ivan Duque said on Tuesday evening.
Nearly all of the infrastructure on Providencia – home to some 6,000 people – had been damaged or destroyed.
Panama’s government said a person had died in its western Ngabe-Bugle region due to conditions caused by the storm.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said flooding from Iota risked causing disaster after Eta.
“We are very concerned about the potential for deadly landslides in these areas as the soil is already completely saturated,” IFRC spokesman Matthew Cochrane told a media briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
About 100,000 Nicaraguans and Hondurans had been evacuated from their homes, authorities said.