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Eye of a Hurricane: Honduras After Mitch

Honduras wasn't the only country hit hard by Hurricane Mitch. Guatemala, to the north, was also badly damaged (see my previous article about the Godchild Project). To the south, in Nicaragua, the storm took 4,000 lives, left 950,000 people homeless, 7,000 people missing, and destroyed 70% of the crops. Nicaragua was the second poorest country in the hemisphere, already! The crater of the Volcan de Casita, an inactive volcano near Leon, Nicaragua, filled up with water. The side of the volcano collapsed with the weight of the water. Mud and water slid down the side, wiping out an entire village, Posoltega.

The side of the volcano - now you see it, now you don't! caption

Not much between, and a long way down!

I feel a bit like Indiana Jones in the "Temple of Doom" as our bus carefully works across a makeshift bridge in the nearly dry riverbed. The place were the real bridge used to be, at least thirty feet above the small trickle of river, is marked by sturdy rock supports on either side, but there's nothing in between them. We've done at least six river and stream crossings today, but none of them had real bridges - not since Hurricane Mitch blew through, anyway!

The land in every direction is dry, dusty and desolate, but it has not always been this way. Here in Southwestern Honduras, February, March and April are the driest months - which they call verano (summer) - but they usually aren't this dry. No longer protected by the trees and plants that were ripped up by the storm, the land, torn apart by the torrential rains of Hurricane Mitch last November, has now dried and turned to dust. A young girl on the bus told me the rain lasted for fifteen days straight. Another man added that during one twenty-four hour period, over two feet of rain fell. Now, four months after Mitch, this small banana republic, which was already extremely poor, is still in a state emergency. Over 6, 600 Hondurans were killed, 8,000 are missing, and 500,000 more were left homeless by this huge natural catastrophe.

How much would you pay for this one?
Would you like a car with your mud?
Choluteca, a town in southwestern Honduras, was very hard hit by Hurricane Mitch. As we get near the town, the woman sitting in front of me points to the empty desert land near the dry riverbed and says, "The police station and a lot of houses and stores used to be right there!" I couldn't believe it. There was nothing there, just some ripped up tree limbs in the distance. Entire houses washed away or collapsed under the weight of the water that collected on their roofs. Cars that had been crushed by water and mud still sit parked by the side of the cracked roads. Victoria, the woman who was showing me around the town, pointed to a house and said ,"The family who used to live there now lives on my sister's back porch. They lost everything they had, but, Gracias a Dios, they weren't hurt." When I ask people about their experiences during the hurricane, the words "Gracias a Dios," (Thank God) seem to come up a lot. People here are thankful that they survived this catastrophe. They are thankful for the aid that has been sent from the U.S. and other countries. They are also thankful to have food and shelter right now.

It will be years before Central America will be rebuilt from Hurricane Mitch. Volunteers from all over the world are here trying to help. Much of the aid pouring into these countries, however, is not in the form of a gift, but of a loan. The World Bank, for example, gave Nicaragua and Honduras $1 billion in interest-free credit. Unfortunately, Nicaragua and Honduras already owe organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund over 10.5 billion dollars. I can't even begin to comprehend what that kind of money that means, any more than I can get a grasp on the amount of destruction and loss of lives that Mitch caused. But I do know that both countries spend more money every year on "servicing their debt" (which means paying money to the countries who loaned it to them) than they do on health care or education. In Honduras, near 40% of the national budget goes to pay the debt to other countries.

There are no quick fixes for a land devastated by this disaster. However, there are many programs looking to help. Search the internet for "Hurricane Mitch" to find out more - there's a lot out there!


Abeja - Inside the Heart of a Volcano!
Kavitha - Oh Say Can't You See? - Bill Clinton's Too-Brief Visit to Nicaragua
Abeja - It's a Bird…It's a Plane…No! It's a Gigantic Doll!!!
Kavitha - A Tale of Two Cities: Nicaragua's Divided History
Monica - Lemonade with a Nobel Laureate
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