Hurricane Iota's death toll in the Central America region on Wednesday rose to 22, including two children, as survivors and rescuers continue to wade through murky waters and catastrophic debris.
Five people died in Honduras and six in Nicaragua, Gonzalo Atxaerandio, the Central America disaster and crisis coordinator for the Red Cross who is organizing relief efforts in Honduras, told the Miami Herald.
Dr. Ciro Ugarte, director of health emergencies for the Pan American Health Organization, said Nicaragua reported at least 10 other deaths. Four of those people died in a huge landslide.
Colombian President Ivan Duque had said on Tuesday that the Category 4 storm killed one person when it barreled through the Colombian archipelago of San Andres and Providencia, about 230 miles off of the northeastern Nicaraguan coast.
These fatalities will be added to the ones left behind by Eta, the other major hurricane that slammed into the area earlier this month. PAHO reported 150 people had died from Eta in Central America as of Monday night, before Iota made landfall in Nicaragua.
The organization estimates at least 6.5 million people in Central America have been affected in some way by Iota and Eta, which has sparked a massive humanitarian disaster. Ugarte warned the numbers could keep on mounting.
"There have been persons who have disappeared and right now multi-institutional teams are dealing with that crisis," Ugarte said during PAHO's weekly press update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas.
Although the conditions are extremely difficult, particularly in shelters, Ugarte said "it is necessary to guarantee access to water, food, shelter of course." PAHO, he said, is currently working with government officials and the United Nations to ensure that those needs are met. "Right now, there are very serious difficulties in accessing certain areas and the damage assessment will take place in the next few hours, perhaps even days."
He said PAHO has sent Nicaragua personal protective equipment and other materials needed to deal with COVID patients. It will soon provide technical support and mobilize resources to guarantee essential health services to that country and others as well.
PAHO is also keeping a close eye on any increase in COVID-19 cases, Ugarte said, which can take some time to show due to the incubation period. "That has not yet been detected right now, but it's highly likely it will increase over the next few weeks because it always takes some time from transmission for the cases to appear."