At a Glance
- The toll of deadly Hurricane Iota continues to rise in Central America.
- Officials warned that overflowing rivers and saturated soil could lead to more landslides.
- More than 120,000 people remain in shelters in Nicaragua and Honduras.
The search for victims of Hurricane Iota continued Thursday even as officials warned that dangerous landslides are still possible because the ground is extremely saturated after back-to-back hurricanes.
"Flooding and mudslides across portions of Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala could be exacerbated by saturated soils in place, resulting in significant to potentially catastrophic impacts," said the National Hurricane Center.
Officials with the Honduran emergency agency COPECO urged residents of high-risk areas to leave their homes and asked people who were already in shelters to stay there until the danger passes.
Max González, minister of COPECO, said the Ulúa, Chamelecón and Choluteca rivers are still rising and expected to flood in Honduras’ Sula Valley.
Jaime Omar Silva, a COPECO commissioner, said, "I know people cling to household items, but the most important thing is to save lives. There are places that have never flooded and are now being affected."
Four landslides have killed more than a dozen people in western Honduras, according to Radio America. The victims included eight members of two families in the city of San José Manuel de Colohete in the Lempira province.
In Nicaragua, Vice President Rosario Murillo said two people are still missing and at least nine were killed in a huge landslide on the Macizo de Peñas Blancas, a mountain in Matagalpa province, according to Prensa Latina. Officials blocked media access to the site in northern Nicaragua, about 80 miles north of the capital.
"The landslide came with all the dirt, and it became like a river going down. It took all of the little houses that were there. There were five homes, five families," said Miguel Rodríguez, who works on a ranch next to the site, according to the Associated Press.
Nicaragua’s army was sending 100 more rescuers to the site, the AP reported.
The precise number of deaths caused by Hurricane Iota is difficult to pin down because it changes by the hour. The latest count puts the total number of deaths in Central America at 39.
Prensa Latina, citing the latest government report, said 18 people are confirmed dead in Nicaragua.
Government officials said 15 people have died in Honduras, according to La Prensa.
Panama reported one person was killed, and Colombia said two people were killed on its offshore islands, according to CBS News. Guatemalan authorities said two people had died and two were missing after a landslide near Purulha in central Guatemala, and El Salvador reported a motorcyclist died after being struck by a tree, according to CBS News.
Hurricane Iota made landfall on Nicaragua’s northeastern coast late Monday, hitting almost exactly the same stretch of the Caribbean coast that was devastated by Hurricane Eta two weeks earlier.
In Honduras, more than 96,000 people evacuated their homes, according to COPECO. More than 73,000 of those are in 822 government shelters. At least 27 homes have been destroyed and 153 damaged.
Washed-out bridges and roads have cut off many communities.
Nicaragua's vice president said more than 160,000 people were evacuated in her country because of Iota. More than 56,000 remained in shelters as of late Wednesday.
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