Hurricane Iota flipped roofing on to the streets, blew down electricity poles and trees, and caused rivers to burst their banks as it battered northeastern Nicaragua on Tuesday, having killed at least two people in the region.
The strongest storm on record to reach Nicaragua, Iota struck late on Monday, packing winds of nearly 250km/h. It was the second hurricane to hit Central America this month.
By 9 am (3pm Irish time), the winds had fallen to 120km/h as Iota moved inland toward southern Honduras, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
The port of Puerto Cabezas, still partly flooded and strewn with debris from devastation caused by Hurricane Eta two weeks ago, again bore the brunt of the storm's impact. Frightened residents huddled in shelters, fretting for their lives.
"We could die," said one, Inocencia Smith. "There is nothing to eat at all," she added, noting that the area's farms were wrecked by Eta, which killed dozens of people across the region.
The wind tore the roof off a makeshift hospital. Patients in intensive care and others were evacuated, including two women who gave birth during the first rains of the storm on Monday, vice-president Rosario Murillo told a news conference.
Guillermo Gonzalez, head of Nicaragua's disaster management agency Sinapred, said first reports from the region indicated there had been damage to houses and roofs, fallen power lines and overflowing rivers.
Unlike neighbouring countries, Nicaragua’s government did not register deaths from Eta, although the storm killed at least two people there, according to local media reports.
Iota passed close to Providencia, one of a cluster of islands in Colombia’s Caribbean province of San Andres, and local authorities reported at least one death there.
"We have a critical situation in Providencia," Colombian president Ivan Duque told local radio on Tuesday morning. "Many people have lost everything." As much as 98 per cent of the island's infrastructure may be destroyed, Duque added.
Panama’s government said a person had died in its western Ngäbe-Buglé region due to conditions caused by storm.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said Iota risked causing disaster in parts of Central America with some people camped out since 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 40,000 people in Nicaragua and some 80,000 in Honduras were evacuated to safety, authorities said.
By mid-morning, Iota was about 220km east of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, the NHC said. It was expected to weaken to a tropical storm later on Tuesday as it barrelled through Honduras and into El Salvador.
This is the first time two major hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic basin in November since records began in 1851.
The NHC said Iota would likely dump up to 75cm of rain in some areas, threatening landslides and more flooding across the water-logged region, compounding damage wrought by Eta, which hammered crops and washed away hillsides.
"We are in the hands of God. If I have to climb up trees, I'll do it," said Jaime Cabal Cu (53), a farmer in Guatemala's southeastern province of Izabal. After taking his family to a shelter, he stayed to guard the house and their belongings.
“We don’t have food, but we are going to wait here for the hurricane that we’re asking God to stop from coming,” he said. – Reuters