Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The death toll continued to climb in Central America on Wednesday amid landslides, flash flooding and rising concerns over the spread of COVID-19 after Hurricane Iota tore through the region earlier this week.
Though the storm has since dissipated, Iota made landfall in northeastern Nicaragua Monday night as the strongest November storm on record to hit the country, devastating communities that were already reeling from Hurricane Eta, which hit miles from the same spot less than two weeks earlier.
The death toll from the storm has climbed to at least 19 though there are fears it could rise much higher.
Nicaragua's Vice President Rosario Murillo said 16 were dead, up from the six she announced on Tuesday, including children, CNN reported. At least two people were dead in Colombia. In Honduras, the armed forces confirmed late Wednesday that the body of a 77-year-old was found in a house buried due to a landslide.
Murillo said more than 400,000 Nicaraguans have been affected by Iota with more than 50,700 resided in government shelters.
According to local authorities, regions throughout Nicaragua have been inundated with up to 10 inches of rain over the last two days, causing flash floods and landslides. And though the storm has dissipated, it will continue to generate rain over at least Wednesday, they said.
"The fact that Iota has left Nicaragua and the region does not mean that the dangers have disappeared," said Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez of SINAPRED, the nation's emergency management agency. "The soils are saturated, in some places the winds will continue from light to moderate, which can mean that we have growth of the rivers, landslides in the mountainous areas."
At least 15 people are missing in Nicaragua's north-central municipality of Tuma la Dalia due to a landslide that was more than a half-mile long and 650 feet wide. An emergency response brigade of the Army, National Police, fire department and other first responder groups were able to recuse four people but also retrieved the bodies of four others, including three children ages 9 years, 2 years and 7 months, SINAPRED said in a statement.
Rescuers will continue to search for the missing, it said.
"These families in previous years received the proposal to relocate because they were in a risk zone, but they did not accept," the release said. "They were also visited to leave the place before the arrival of the hurricane, but decided to say."
The National Hurricane Center warned Wednesday that "life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding" is expected throughout Central America.
In Honduras, the armed forces continue to tweet pictures of rescue operations, destruction and swamped villages while the national police warned residents on Wednesday to stay away from several bridges, roads and highways due to flooding.
The United Nations said impacts of the damages wrought by Eta in Central America were still being estimated when Iota hit.
"So, for example, Honduras, authorities now report that 3 million people are affected," Clare Nullis, the spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization, told the U.N. at a press conference on Tuesday. "That's 1 million more than the figures that they reported last week. In Guatemala, we are talking about more than 900,000 people directly affected by Eta. That's nearly triple the figure from the previous week. So this is very much still developing emergency on top of which now slams another emergency with potentially catastrophic consequences."
Americares, a global non-profit health and development organization, which has been working with partner organizations in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said it is worried about increased infections.
"With thousands of families still in shelters from Hurricane Eta, and thousands more now seeking refuge from Iota, there is increased concern about the potential spread of COVID-19," the organization said in a statement. "Personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer for evacuees are among the greatest needs, particularly as larger shelters open across the region to meet the expanded need."
Project Hope said late last week the number of COVID-19 infections following Eta in Honduras jumped by more than 2,100 cases and 68 deaths.
"Cases are likely to rise even more as testing has increased in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta and as COVID-19 potentially spread among displace populations," the global health and humanitarian organization said in a statement.