Central America – Hurricane Iota Causes Deadly Floods and Landslides

Hurricane Iota swept over Central America from 16 November, 2020, causing fatalities and widespread damage. Iota comes just 2 weeks after the destructive Hurricane Eta, which affected 4 million people in the region.

Floods in Chiquimula, Guatemala after Hurricane Iota November 2020. Photo: Bomberos Voluntarios

Hurricane Iota swept over the Colombian Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina as a Category 5 hurricane on 16 November 2020, causing widespread damage. Two fatalities were reported on the island of Providencia, which was hardest hit and suffered massive damage to infrastructure. Around 112 people were evacuated.

Iota then moved towards Nicaragua, making landfall on 16 November near the town of Haulover about 45km south of Bilwi (also known as Puerto Cabezas) with sustained winds of 250 km/h.

Later Iota weakened to a Tropical Storm as it moved into southern Honduras and weakened further to a Tropical depression as it moved over El Salvador. Hundreds of people have been evacuated in the department of Chalatenango in El Salvador.

However, the National Hurricane Center in the USA warned that while Iota’s winds are lower, the storm still has the potential to produce potentially catastrophic flash flooding and mud slides.

Track of ex-Hurricane Iota, 18 November 2020. Image: NHC


Over 62,000 people evacuated their homes in Nicaragua, with emergency shelters set up in La Cruz de Río Grande, Puerto Cabezas / Bilwi, Prinzapolka, Laguna de Perla and Waspam, among others.

As of 18 November, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reported 6 fatalities and 3 people missing. IFRC said 4,000 homes had been lost and reported extensive damage to crops and infrastructure which has left 53,000 people without access to drinking water. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 40,000 people were left in need of food after Iota.

IFRC said there are reports of landslides in Jinotega and Matagalpa where human losses and damage to infrastructure and housing could be extensive. Nicaragua’s disaster agency SINAPRED reported 4 fatalities in a landslide in Macizo Peñas Blancas in El Tuma-La Dalia municipality, Matagalpa department. Local media reported the death toll as much higher.


UN OCHA reported on 18 November that an estimated 360,000 people in Honduras have been affected by Iota. The departments of Cortés, Francisco Morazán, El Paraíso, and Choluteca are reportedly the worst hit. IFRC reported over 70,000 people were sheltering in emergency accommodation as of 17 November.

Local media reported several communities in El Paraíso department have been cut off due to flooding. Videos on Social Media showed the dramatic rescue of people trapped in flooding in Potrerillos municipality in the department of Cortés.


Heavy rainfall associated with Iota was reported in Guatemala. In a 6 hour period on 18 November, 94 mm of rain fell in Las Vegas, Livingston in Izabal Department and 67.8 mm in Cahabón in Alta Verapaz Department, according to Guatemala’s Instituto Nacional de Sismología, Vulcanología, Meteorología e Hidrología (INSIVUMEH).

INSIVUMEH also reported rivers were above maximum levels in at least 12 locations across the country as of 18 November.

The Red Cross, quoting figures from Guatemala’s National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED) said at least 28,901 people were affected and 2,343 persons evacuated, as of 18 November.

IFRC said that initial reports suggest the worst hit areas are in the departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal – both of which were severely affected by Tropical Depression Eta. Other departments have also been affected by Iota’s rain, and the risk of floods and landslides remains in other parts of the country.

Two people reportedly died and 2 are missing after a landslide that occurred in the village of El Carmen Jalauté de Purulhá in Baja Verapaz department on 18 November. Severe flooding was reported in Río Hondo municipality in the department of Zacapa.

Rivers levels in Guatemala, 18 November 2020. Image: INSIVUMEH 

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Nicaragua – Hurricane Iota

Honduras – Hurricane Iota

Guatemala – Hurricane Iota