Siham Handal was huddled at her home in the town of San Pedro Sula last week when Hurricane Eta pierced Honduras and other Central American nations with high winds causing heavy rains, catastrophic floods and devastating landslides.
She had to cover her windows with towels as water seeped inside from the Category 4 storm after Eta landed in Nicaragua last Tuesday and worked its way to Honduras and Guatemala on Wednesday.
“We felt heavy rains and winds, but we didn’t see the type of flooding that other people have seen in the center of the city,” Handal, 25, told NBC News in Spanish.
After the hurricane, Handal lost communication with her grandmother in El Progreso, about 20 miles southeast. Your grandmother is fine, but the surrounding areas in her ward are not, she said.
“Many areas of El Progreso were flooded and left a lot of damage, especially in the municipality of La Lima. It was disastrous, “said Handal.” Many people waited on their roofs to be saved. Some of them even spent days without food, waiting to be rescued. “
Eta is the strongest storm to devastate the region since Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed approximately 7,000 people in Honduras. Preliminary figures show that Eta killed at least 58 people in Honduras. Local authorities said They expect the death toll to rise as the floods recede and clean-up operations continue. It is estimated that Eta caused $ 5 billion in damages, compared to $ 2 billion from Hurricane Mitch.
“Even more painful” with Covid-19
Roberto Contreras was 38 when Mitch devastated Honduras. He said he remembered it affected about 15 percent of the country’s population, nearly 150,000 people.
“Eta affects 25 percent of the population. We’re talking about half a million people. This is made even more painful by Covid-19, “Contreras, now 60, told NBC News in Spanish. “Many people have lost their jobs and everything they had in their homes was the result of more than 10 years of work and they lost everything.”
“This is worse because we didn’t have a pandemic with Mitch,” he added. “How are people supposed to relax when they can’t even go to work?”
Albania Lopez, who lives in La Lima, took her two dogs with her and took refuge with her aunt and uncle in San Pedro Sula last Tuesday when she heard that heavy rains were already pouring down their homes. Before she left, she stored everything important in high places around the house to protect them from possible flooding. But the efforts were in vain.
She returned four days later to find that Eta’s flood had flowed into the house she grew up in, destroying everything in sight that left piles of mud and debris.
“My heart broke in a thousand pieces because it was really a total catastrophe. I’m pretty sure no home in this area survived this, “Lopez, 26, told NBC News in Spanish. “That was probably one of the worst days of my life.”
Lopez lost her airline job in September after taking a few months of paid vacation due to the pandemic. She tried to get back on her feet with the help of family, friends, and friends a GoFundMe that her cousin started for her.
Communities in central Honduras such as La Libertad are still submerged in floods, causing most residents to seek refuge in shelters. The land where Gabino Velazquez’s house stood is now completely empty, almost as if it had never been there.
“There isn’t even a pair of shoes here. The river has taken absolutely everything” He told Telemundo News in Spanish.
Contreras, who also owns the Honduran family franchise Power Chicken and was a former mayoral candidate Visiting some of the hardest hit communities and setting up mobile kitchens with the help of volunteers to feed those staggered by Eta.
He’s also helped run rapid Covid-19 tests in some of the shelters he visited, Contreras said. “In one of the shelters it was 50-50, which means that if the 50 percent who are infected stay there, they will infect everyone else.” We need to think about what we can do to relocate people. “
Contreras added that there is a great need for mats, sheets and pillows so that people can have a place to sleep “after they have lost everything”. But the need goes even deeper.
US Hondurans send aid
Hondurans in Miami have mobilized to send aid. (Florida has the second largest Honduran population under states to Texas.)
Sandy Vega is one of them. She used her online shop La Yassu Boutique as a platform to raise money via Facebook Lives and buy basic food items such as canned food, clothing, diapers and medicines to be sent to Honduras.
“Organizations in Honduras are asking for medicines,” said Vega, who used her own money to pay for shipping costs to send aid to Honduras. “There are young children with a fever, stomach upset, and rashes all over their bodies.”
She has also partnered with other Hondurans in Texas and northern Florida to connect with local organizations in Honduras that are receiving the shipments and distributing the aid.
“There are women with newborns who have absolutely nothing, not even clothes for their babies,” said Vega of some families who are taking refuge under a bridge in Chamelecón.
Hondurans living in Puerto Rico who survived Hurricane Maria in 2017, which caused over $ 90 billion in damage and killed at least 2,975 people, said the news from their homeland appeared to be far worse.
Maria Ines Gamez, a Honduran woman who lives in Utuado, Puerto Rico, said small houses near rivers were washed away by the floods, while others were buried in the mudslides, making them more dangerous than anything they were before had experienced.
“I saw children carrying children and all the terror,” she said.
Gamez is part of the organization Circulo Hondureño de Puerto Rico, Spanish for the Honduran County of Puerto Rico, which raised funds for Eta survivors. Donations will go to a church that works with other organizations to distribute aid, according to group president Liliana Casco.
In Honduras, other hurricane survivors like Handal have been helping others in need.
She started a GoFundMe with the help of her aunt, who lives in New Jersey, and other family members. In partnership with the Quetglas Foundation and Fundación OSOVIThey were able to buy refrigerators, kitchen appliances, and cleaning supplies to help 100 families.
But Handal said she is keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Iota is expected to hit Honduras on Tuesday, “because I can’t think of anything worse than giving people this help and then making them lose everything again.”
“So we will continue to raise funds to see if we can help more families and wait until next week to see when we can start distributing that aid,” Handal said.