Hurricane Iota, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic basin this late in the year, crashed into Central America late Monday night as a Category 4, delivering massive devastation to the indigenous city of Puerto Cabezas and surrounding towns in northeastern Nicaragua. It also barreled through a small Colombian archipelago along the way, leaving behind almost utter destruction.
The Central American toll from Iota remained unclear Tuesday as officials scrambled to help. However, Colombia confirmed at least one death.
The National Hurricane Center predicts the torrential rain and life-threatening gusts will continue in the region until later this week, increasing the risk of catastrophic landslides, storm surges and floods.
Following an almost identical trajectory to Hurricane Eta, Iota made landfall only about 15 miles from where its twin storm landed on Nov. 3, just 13 days before, with winds around 155 mph.
As of Monday, the Honduran government reported Eta affected more than 3 million people and killed at least 77. Meanwhile, Nicaraguan authorities said that over 1,000 homes had been affected and at least two people were killed.
Puerto Cabezas woke up Tuesday to zinc sheets flying off rooftops, stormwater flooding roads and homes, and crumpling electric posts and palm trees. The port city of over 60,000, at the Atlantic coastline's edge, is the capital of the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Power has been out since Monday afternoon, and cellphone signals have been nonexistent or erratic following Iota. However, reports of ruin began to circulate late Tuesday.
By Monday evening, two residents of Puerto Cabezas told the Miami Herald that the storm had destroyed the city's shelters, and people were trying to survive outside as Iota raged around them. A temporary hospital, set up in a local school after Eta, was also evacuated when Iota tore the roof off.
Indigenous communities from surrounding areas and from as far as Cabo Gracias a Dios, at the edge of the Honduras-Nicaragua border, had evacuated to Puerto Cabezas and other places in the autonomous region.
"There is no safe shelter here because the government has never been concerned with creating or building a safe shelter against hurricanes," said Jairo Henriquez, a resident of Puerto Cabezas. "We are completely abandoned."
Henriquez, who helped residents evacuate before both Eta and Iota, said many people resisted relocating to the government shelters. In a live video he shared Monday morning on Facebook, Henriquez captured the gray sky and muddy waters on the coastline in the Sandy Bay Sirpy neighborhood of Puerto Cabezas. Uprooted palm trees lay by the seaside.