Thick mud blocks the way for a family who has been forced to flee their home in Honduras.
A home away from home

Thousands still homeless following Honduran hurricanes

Home away from home
“We basically just grabbed our children and left as quickly as we could. It was a terrifying moment,” says Norma Murilla, 40. She is one of 61,000 Hondurans who were left homeless after the devastating hurricanes that hit the region in November.

The back-to-back hurricanes of Eta and Iota hit parts of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, devastating entire communities.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is on the ground in Honduras, where the situation continues to worsen. We are providing displaced families with soap, toilet paper, masks and anti-bac, and will be delivering infrastructure improvements.

But the needs are great and more humanitarian relief is urgently needed.

Norma used to live with her husband and two children in a settlement in la Rivera Hernández in the city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras. Their lives were turned upside down, when hurricanes Eta and Iota hurricanes generated strong rains and floods and covered the family’s house in 20 minutes. Now, Norma and her family have found a temporary shelter inside the Alta Gracia Sánchez school in San Pedro Sula, where she volunteers to assist with food distribution every day.

With they received the hurricane alert, Norma and her family evacuated to her mother's house, but the water and mud also caught up with them there. "People began to shout and my husband only saw one way out: “leave everything behind, we have to go now," he said. Norma is grateful to the fact that the whole family made it out from the floods alive. "If this flood had arrived during the night, we would all have lost our lives," she tells.

"Many have lost their houses, and it's going to take us years to rebuild what we lost. The places we used to work are also destroyed, so now we are unemployed," she said.

"The floods arrived without any warning and with such force that we had no time to pack our things. We basically just grabbed our children and left as quickly as we could. It was a moment filled with terror. When the flood came, the only thing we would do was to leave as quickly as we could.”
“Within this shelter at the school, we have many needs. We need bed covers, beddings, medicines, warm clothes and food. There’s many children and old people here that need extra care.”

“At this moment we have nothing. We have no roof, and we are now effectively homeless. So, what we need now is to gather all our strengths in order to rebuild our homes”.

Photo: NRC/Christian Jepsen
Read caption Norma has lost everything she owns and is living in an overcrowded school. Photo: Christian Jepsen/NRC

Water and mud everywhere

When they received the hurricane alert, Norma and her family evacuated to her mother’s house. But the water and mud caught up with them even there.

“People began to shout,” Norma remembers. “My husband saw only one way out. ‘Leave everything behind, we have to go now!’ he said.”

Despite losing their home and all their possessions, Norma is grateful that the whole family made it out of the floods alive. “If the flood had arrived during the night, we would all have lost our lives,” she says.

Norma and her family have found temporary shelter in a nearby school. There aren’t enough mattresses to go around and it’s desperately overcrowded. People are sleeping 15 to a classroom, without a safe distance to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and with very little privacy.

Alta Gracia Sanchez school in San Pedro Sula has been transformed into a shelter for almost 300 people affected by the floods that followed hurricanes Eta and Iota.  

School chairs were cornered to make room for a few mattresses that are far too few for the number of sheltered people. In many classrooms, at least 15 people sleep without a safe distance to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and with very little privacy.

NRC has provided hygiene items such as soap, toilet paper, masks and antibacterial for adults and children to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the overcrowded temporary shelters. Additionally, NRC is facilitating discussions with each family on how to promote good hygiene habits with frequent handwashing. NRC is also in the process to support 19 shelter for families affected be the recent hurricanes with infrastructure improvements such hand washing stations, temporary divisions and disinfection devices.

Photo: NRC/Christian Jepsen
Read caption Alta Gracia Sánchez school in San Pedro Sula, where Norma and her family are now sleeping. Photo: Christian Jepsen/NRC

“At the school we have many needs,” Norma explains. “We need bedding, medicine, warm clothes and food. There are many children and old people here who need extra care.”

Not only were homes destroyed by the hurricanes, but hospitals, schools, workplaces and roads were damaged too. There is a desperate shortage of food and Norma is currently volunteering to assist with food distributions every day.

“At this moment we have nothing,” she says. “We will need to gather all our strength in order to rebuild our homes.”

Eta and Iota storms have destroyed houses, harvests and increased existing food insecurity, as well as exacerbated needs for protection, shelter, health and WASH services. According to the United Nations, 8 million people would have required assistance in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala as a result of the pandemic. The number of people with humanitarian needs increased dramatically as a result of storms.

With both hurricanes the water reached high levels overflowding rivers and flooding entire communities. As the water goes back, it let thick mud inside the lucky houses that are still standing, in contrast many houses has disappeared and also many of the streets are blocked.

After the Eta emergency, many tried to go back and clean their houses, but with the second hurrican, the consequences have worsened and many have no the chance to rebuilt what they lost. Everyday many people affected try to  cross mud and water to see what can be rescuble but this encrease the risk of respiratory affections.

Photo: NRC/Marcela Olarte
Read caption People struggling to remove the thick mud from their houses. Photo: Christian Jepsen/NRC

Sleeping on bits of cardboard

Families who have been unable to find space in the schools are squatting by the side of the road or at petrol stations. Others sleep under bridges – having tied together pieces of plastic and cardboard to secure a degree of privacy and protection. Outside the shelters, intricate webs of strings can be seen holding the families’ clothes that never seem to get dry.

A new roadside camp close to one of the worst-hit areas continues kilometre after kilometre, overlooking lower-lying neighbourhoods ruined by a tsunami of mud.

Along the highways leading into the city of San Pedro Sula, hundreds of families displaced by the devastating floods caused by hurricanes Eta and Iota, have sat up improvised camps with sticks and plastic sheets.  Others sleep under bridges inside the city – some in tents while others have tied together pieces of plastic and cardboard to secure a minimum of privacy and protection. 

The new roadside camp continues kilometer after kilometer as you drive out of San Pedro Sula in the direction of one of the worst hit areas around the city of La Lima: On one side of the road the lower-lying neighborhoods are a mess of mud and debris, while the other, higher situated side have now been converted to an uncomfortable campsite for families whose homes have been ruined by a tsunami of mud.

A few black or blue plastic sheets are coving the few belongings that the families managed to take with them or have sourced after their escape. Outside, intricate webs of strings are holding the families’ clothes that never seem to get dry. In a gas station on the road between San Pedro Sula and La Lima, a dozen families have sat up camp and living from day to day, while their children live dangerously between the cars that are all around them on the highway and in the gas station. Almost no one are wearing any masks to protect themselves against the risks of Covid-19. Luxuries such as mattresses are a thing of the past and now replaced with pieces of cardboard. The only assistance that the families at the gas station have received are a daily meal supplied by church organisations.

The people at the gas station are grateful for the assistance they receive from churches and passersby. "The people are helping the people," is a mantra often repeated. But what they really hope for is a durable solution coming from the national authorities.

The number of people in this situation is unknown. 

Photo: NRC/Christian Jepsen
Read caption A temporary shelter built along the motorway leading into the city of San Pedro Sula. Photo: Christian Jepsen/NRC

Marlon, 32, his pregnant wife and one-year-old daughter made a quick escape when they received the warning about the incoming flood.

“I tried to gather a few items to take with us, but it was too late. The rain was very strong,” says Marlon. “The first night, we slept outside a building and had no food.”

“We managed to bring some clothes for my daughter, but my wife and I only had what we were wearing. The rain poured down on us and we have been living on the streets ever since.”

Marlon and his family lost all their possessions in the floods caused by hurricanes Eta and Iota that made landfall in Honduras in November 2020. Together with his wife and one-year-old daughter, Marlon made a quick escape from their neighborhood in Jerusalem nearby the large city of San Pedro Sula. 

They are squatting on the grounds of a gas station in La Lima municipality alongside many other families in the same situation. A few plastic sheets are coving the clothes that have been donated by people passing by the gas station. Luxuries such as mattresses are a thing of the past and now replaced with pieces of cardboard, but church organisations are providing a daily meal to the displaced families at the gas station. 

"We didn’t manage to get anything out of our house, when we received the warning about the incoming flood. I tried to get a few items with us, but it was too late, and the rain was very strong,” Marlon told.

“The first night, we slept outside a building without having any food. We managed to bring some clothes for my daughter, but my wife and myself only had what we were wearing. That first night, the rain poured down on us and we have been living on the streets since then.”

With the help of other people, we made this plastic roof which has helped us a bit. Today, a woman brought us fruits for my daughter. Before we moved into this shelter, we got soaking wet from the rain, which especially affected my young daughter and my wife, who has health problems and is pregnant at the same time.”

My wife has suffered from epilepsy since she was seven years old. Yesterday she had a seizure because she took the wrong medicine, so now she is dizzy and cannot get up by herself.

Milagros [miracles] is my one-year old daughter’s name. We choose this name because it is what she is: we did not know that my wife was pregnant, she had a heart attack and was in a coma for three days, then we found out that she was 8 weeks pregnant and the doctors said my wife was not going to wake up. We prayed and the girl is here safe and sound".

Photo: NRC/Christian Jepsen
Read caption Marlon with his one-year-old daughter Milagros in their temporary shelter. Photo: Christian Jepsen/NRC

The family has been able to build a plastic roof and feed their daughter with the help of passers-by and church organisations. But Marlon’s wife has epilepsy and is in desperate need of medical assistance.

The hurricanes hit just as the region was struggling under the pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic. The lack of facemasks, the damage to hospitals and the overcrowding in the temporary shelters will make it even more difficult to fight the pandemic.

The families who lost their homes in the hurricanes urgently need safe and dignified places to live.

Facts about the humanitarian situation
  • In Honduras: 3.8 million people have been affected by Hurricanes Eta and Iota, and 61,000 homes have been destroyed. 95,000 people are still living in shelters one month after the storms, while communication and roads to an estimated 330,000 people have been cut.
  • In Guatemala: 1.7 million people have been affected and 79,000 homes have been destroyed.
  • Before the Covid-19 pandemic and the storms, the United Nations assessed that 5.2 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala due to chronic violence, food insecurity and displacement.
  • The 2020 season closed as the most active hurricane season ever recorded, with 30 named storms, including 13 hurricanes and six major hurricanes – according to OCHA’s Humanitarian Snapshot of 4 December 2020.
  • Criminal groups have already started to exploit the situation, blocking aid agencies from accessing communities and extorting people as they try to return home.
  • New caravans of women, men and children are forming, as people try to flee the region because of the worsening situation. There is a risk that Covid-19 and other diseases, such as dengue, will spread.
  • In 1998, the world came to the rescue of Honduras and Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch. Now, 22 years later, Eta and Iota have caused similar devastation, yet the region has been neglected by the international community.

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