Bridges, roads and infrastructure across the country were heavily damaged and dozens of communities were cut off entirely due to road washouts and landslides. Initial estimates place the damage by Eta at a staggering $5 billion US dollars, exacting a heavy toll on an economy that had already extremely been heavily weakened due to the COVID crisis.
The Unthinkable - Hurricane Iota
Following Hurricane Eta, thousands gathered in cramped shelters - dramatically exacerbating the transmission of COVID. Infectious diseases from contaminated water sources began to spread in affected areas. With the country still trying to understand how to even get back on its feet, another storm formed in the tropics.
Though weakened by COVID and Hurricane Eta, HTH to the rest of the country sprang into emergency action in order to avoid more loss of life and livelihood. The rain had barely subsided for a few days, and the ground was now completely saturated. Lakes and rivers were near maximum capacity and emergency measures were taken to lower the levels behind dams, such as the massive "El Cajon" in our region in order to avoid releases during the worst of the storm.
Within days, Iota was a catastrophic category 5 hurricane and incredibly began to follow a nearly identical track towards the coastline of Honduras and Nicaragua. Not even two weeks behind Eta, Hurricane Iota made landfall as a category 4 hurricane on November 16. Once again, the winds weakened, but the rain did not.
Rainfall in our region may have totaled nearly three feet in this second storm. The tremendous cleanup effort of the past two weeks was undone overnight as the storm surged through the country. Even higher floodwaters and more extensive landslides damaged hard hit areas - refilling homes with mud that were still being cleaned out from Eta. The international airport in San Pedro filled with water and mud up to the top of its doorways. Crops that had survived Eta were now ruined. At least 16 more people lost their lives, though many are still missing.
As of November 25, roughly 95,000 people remained in official shelters and 400,000 people evacuated from their homes (Source - MSF). More than 3 million households were estimated to have been directly affected by the storms, and though the death toll remains to be counted, well over 100 are known to have lost their lives.
Prior to the storms, over 500,000 jobs had been lost to COVID (in a country of 9 million people). Now, in addition to job loss, 60-80% of basic grains crops like corn and beans are estimated to have been lost and as well as approximately 10 million pounds of coffee, one of the countries primary exports (Source - CARE Int'l). Many small landholders and people living in materials poverty depend on these three crops in order to make their livelihood.
Altogether, the storms and COVID-19 have exacted an enormous economic toll on the country. COVID-19 alone is estimated to contract the Honduran economy by 7.1% (compared to estimates of 3% for the US economy). Now, the twin storms have caused approximately $10 billion in damage - an amount equal to 40% of GDP. Altogether the damage caused by COVID and the hurricanes will likely require at least a decade to recover to pre-2020 conditions (compared to expected full recovery in the US sometime in 2021). Honduras and its partners now face a long road of repairing bridges, roads, homes, factories, airports, and livelihoods - with some moments of extreme hardship for those affected by the storms.
The HTH Response
Following Hurricane Eta, Heart to Honduras began to immediately raise funds for relief and recovery efforts. Initial response included fuel for municipal heavy equipment to clear roads to isolated communities, provision of food and clean drinking water to those affected, and the donation of the International Extreme Camp's mattresses to emergency shelters and those that had lost their beds.
Efforts initially focused on Lomas del Aguila, one of our CoHI communities that experienced severe flooding, multiple landslides, and transportation cutoff for many days. Word also reached us quickly of the tragic loss of a grandmother and three children in a landslide. We helped outfit a temporary, community-based shelter in town that would not require affected family members to travel to other distant shelters during their recovery.
When we received word of Iota, the staff was activated as the country went into another nationwide red alert. In advance of the storms, HTH stocked the community-based emergency shelter in Lomas del Aguila with tents, water, food, mattresses, and other supplies, since experience had recently taught us that they were the most vulnerable of our partner communities. Staff members were in constant communication with the leadership of other partner communities in order to ensure that all were prepared for the coming storm in order to minimize loss of life.