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With Much Of Central America Under Hurricanes' Waters, U.S. Military Efforts Are Key

Residents of the northern Nicaraguan town of Siuna wade through their flooded streets after Hurricane Iota swept through this week.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota brought epic flooding and mudslides across the isthmus — making U.S. air power all the more important to rescue and relief.

Two Category 4 hurricanes have hit Central America in just two weeks at about the same location in Nicaragua. Much of the relief effort will be borne by the U.S. military — directed in large part by its Southern Command, or Southcom, here in South Florida.

Scores of people across Central America have died as a result of Hurricanes Eta, and now, Iota this week. Tens of thousands have been forced from their homes by the epic flooding caused by the storms. With so much of the isthmus under water, U.S. military equipment — like helicopters — is crucial to rescue and relief.

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At Southcom headquarters in Doral, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Andrew Tiongson told WLRN the U.S. expects to redouble its Central America aid efforts after Iota.

Tiongson said starting from when Eta slammed the Nicaraguan coast on Nov. 3 and tore through Honduras and Guatemala, "our top priority was to provide immediate life-saving support."

But the post-Iota situation has been "exacerbated by the fact that Eta just came through and the ground is saturated and a lot of the infrastructure is already destroyed," Tiongson added.

"So that is the concern of everybody — flash flooding, mudslides throughout, dams overflowing.”

Destinee Sweeney
U.S Air Force
U.S. Joint Task Force-Bravo training in Central America last year.

Tiongson said U.S. aircraft are flying surveillance missions now to determine the added destruction. The operations are led by Joint Task Force-Bravo from the U.S. air base in Soto Cano, Honduras.

“We sought out additional resources to the tune of 10 extra helicopters to move massive supplies to isolated areas," Tiongson said. "Because it's so widespread, they set up three outlying posts — one in San Pedro Sula in Honduras, Guatemala City, and in Panama City.”

Iota also caused major damage and killed two people on the nearby Colombian islands of Providencia and San Andrés.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.