News Alert: In Eta’s Wake, Hurricane Iota Threatens More Devastation in Central America

As Hurricane Iota approaches areas of Central America recently devastated by Tropical Storm Eta, Mercy Corps’ team in Guatemala continues to provide assistance in the hard-hit department of Alta Verapaz. Iota is expected to make landfall tonight as a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane.

In Guatemala, more than 980,000 people were affected by Eta and thousands have been unable to return home. Mercy Corps continues delivering essential supplies and food to evacuation shelters in Alta Verapaz. Access to affected communities still remains challenging with downed trees, flooded roads and washed out bridges, and could be further hampered by flash flooding, overflowing rivers and landslides spurred by Iota. 

“If Iota maintains its projected track, it could be devastating, no matter its strength. The soil is completely saturated and the land is still unstable from Tropical Storm Eta," says Miriam Aguilar, Mercy Corps’ country representative in Guatemala. “This coming week we plan to install six water storage tanks at evacuation shelters in Alta Verapaz to ensure evacuees have reliable access to clean water. Whether we can do that depends entirely on access in the days ahead as Iota passes over.” 

Mercy Corps’ team in Alta Verapaz, which has already been distributing hygiene and sanitization supplies as well as personal protective equipment in recent months to prevent the spread of COVID-19, is particularly concerned about accelerated spread of the virus in the days and weeks ahead.

“The risk of COVID-19 spreading will only increase as more seek refuge in shelters, already crowded with more than 17,500 Guatemalans from the last storm,” says Aguilar. “There are also many informal shelters and small camps stood up by communities themselves, using improvised structures, lacking basic services and extremely vulnerable to any new adverse weather conditions. They are at even greater risk of disease transmission. It is critical families displaced by these storms have access to masks, hygiene supplies and handwashing to prevent the spread of the virus and other waterborne disease.”