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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
- 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.