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Iota-caused avalanche leaves 16 dead in Nicaragua

MANAGUA (AP) – At least 16 people have died due to a landslide in an area of ​​northern Nicaragua affected by severe rains and landslides caused by the devastating passage of Hurricane Iota, witnesses of the event reported Wednesday.

Coffee producer Henry Hueck, owner of the San Martín farm near the site of the collapse, said that an avalanche of stones and mud was registered Tuesday afternoon in an area of ​​the Peñas Blancas massif, a mountain in the province of Matagalpa located about 130 kilometers north of Managua.

According to Hueck, on whose farm a survivor of the collapse works, rescuers from the army and the police traveled to the scene and so far have managed to recover 16 bodies of people belonging to six families.

For his part, the political secretary of the ruling Sandinista Front in Matagalpa, Pedro Haslam, confirmed the event and the death of four people there. He added that four other people have been rescued alive and 15 more are missing. Rescue work continues, he said.

Iota struck the northern Caribbean of Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane causing the destruction of homes, landslides and river overflows. The government had reported the death of six people on Tuesday, including two children.

Meanwhile, the United States government announced that it allocated 17 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to help those affected in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua by Hurricane Iota and Hurricane Eta -which hit the region two weeks ago-, according to a official statement issued in Washington.

He also reported that he has sent experts from the Disaster Response Assistance Team of the Agency for International Development (USAID) to those countries, who will help identify the damage and needs in coordination with local authorities and international agencies.

Iota hit the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean and flooded parts of neighboring Honduras that were still affected by the floods caused by Eta.

After losing intensity, Iota was moving inland through northern Nicaragua and southern Honduras on Tuesday night as a tropical storm, but meteorologists warned that its heavy rains continue to pose a risk of floods and landslides. It had maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour) and was moving west at 19 km / h (12 mph).

The storm passed about 25 kilometers (40 miles) south-southwest of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, where the flow of the rivers increased and the rains are expected to intensify. In the mountainous city, residents of low-lying areas, prone to flooding, were being evacuated as a preventive measure, as were those in neighborhoods vulnerable to landslides.

“Here what affected the most were the floods. The Barra Patuca sector has been flooded for 15 days, “said Teonela Paisano Wood, the mayor of the Honduran town of Brus Laguna.” We are in danger if it continues to rain. “

Mirna Wood, vice president of the Miskito community in the Gracias a Dios region of Honduras’ eastern tip, was in Tegucigalpa collecting donations for her community ravaged by Eta when Iota arrived.

Some 40,000 people from that area had to leave their homes in the lowlands and near rivers and the sea and took refuge in shelters, but others remained stranded near the border with Nicaragua. Some were rescued by Nicaraguan authorities, he added.

In Nicaragua, the extent of the damage was unclear because much of the affected region had no electricity, no telephone or internet service, and strong winds hampered radio transmissions. Iota made landfall just 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of where Eta, also a Category 4, landed on 3 November.

Preliminary reports from the coast spoke of trees and power poles downed and the roofs of homes and businesses uprooted, explained Guillermo González, director of the state Disaster Attention System.

Nicaragua’s vice president and first lady, Rosario Murillo, confirmed that an 8-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother drowned in the La Piñuela community when they tried to cross the Solera River. There were more reports of missing people in that area.

For its part, Panama said that one person died and another was missing in the autonomous indigenous community of Ngabe Bugle, in the west of the country.

Eta killed more than 130 people and caused landslides and flash floods in parts of Central America and Mexico. It left tens of thousands homeless in Honduras, which reported 74 dead and nearly 57,000 people in shelters.

Before making landfall in Nicaragua, Iota swept the small Colombian island of Providencia, more than 250 kilometers (155 miles) off the Nicaraguan coast. According to the president of Colombia, Iván Duque, one person died and 98% of the island’s infrastructure was affected.

Providence is inhabited almost exclusively by descendants of African slaves and British colonizers, who speak an English version of Creole. The island does not have direct flights to the mainland, but it has become a popular tourist destination. Colombian authorities announced Tuesday the shipment of a ship with 15 tons of aid.

Iota is the 30th named storm in the intense Atlantic hurricane season. It is also the ninth to escalate rapidly this year, a dangerous phenomenon that occurs with increasing frequency.

It is also the latest Category 5 hurricane, beating Cuba’s record of November 8, 1932, noted Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University.

Hurricane season officially ends on November 30.

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The Associated Press journalists Christopher Sherman in Mexico City, Marlos González in Tegucigalpa and Manuel Rueda in Bogotá contributed to this report.