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In Honduras, clinging to hope for a new start after two hurricanes

14 Dec 2020

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Andrés Avelino Ferrofino stands in front of the soccer field of the Samar village school. Credit: UNDAC/Dan Stothart

By Dan Stothart and Martin Torres, UNDAC team

The UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has just finished its mission in Honduras, which was hit by back-to-back hurricanes in November. During field visits, they spoke with affected people such as Andrés, 50, who has lived his entire life in the village of Samar, municipality of El Negrito, in the department of Yoro, in the north of the country.

“This time it was excessive. I didn’t even see this with Mitch,” Andrés says, referring to the hurricane that battered Honduras in 1998. “The ground beneath our feet was getting higher and higher. We were almost buried here.”

Andrés looks around at the mud. The sidewalk in front of the school is flat and deep, with the footprints of people and dogs that resemble brown snow.

Samar, a rural village that is home to some 60 families, is now under 2 to 3 metres of mud. The village’s elementary school, which 120 children used to attend, is now collapsing under the weight of the mud that has rolled up against the perimeter wall.

When Rob Schoenberger, a member of UNDAC’s Americas Support Team, had his picture taken at the entrance of the school, the mud almost reached his shoulder, and he stands about 1.8 metres tall.

Rob Schoenberger, a member of the Americas Support Team, integrated in the UNDAC mission, shows the depth of the mud in Samar village. Credit: UNDAC/Dan Stothart

Hurricane Eta hit Honduras on 4 November, triggering flooding and landslides in much of the northern part of the country. Hurricane Iota arrived just 12 days later, ravaging what had survived the wrath of Eta. Although Iota did not directly hit this part of the country, it quickly filled the river basins and wreaked havoc for a week, pouring large amounts of rain on already saturated soil. It is not surprising, therefore, that Andrés shows the fatigue of someone who has just gone two rounds against a champion boxer.

The ground floors of the houses in the village are uninhabitable. Some people are still living in the second floor of houses, but most evacuated to shelters in the centre of town and only returned to salvage what little was left in their homes or to try to clean, even though there is still no water in the community. A passerby could see a group of people struggling to rescue an old refrigerator – already battered and dirty – through a muddy street. But with no power in the community, it will be difficult to determine whether the appliance still works.

What is left of Samar village, municipality of El Negrito in the department of Yoro, Honduras. Credit: UNDAC/Dan Stothart

“In 1976, at the time of [Hurricane] Fifi, helicopters could land on the soccer field,” says Andrés, speaking of the strongest hurricane to hit Honduras prior to Mitch’s arrival in 1998. “Now, it is covered by 3 metres of mud.”

Samar’s soccer team plays against teams from other villages in the municipality, and it is one of the best. The net is still standing on one side of the field, but the mud reaches halfway up the goal posts. Andrés talks about his family, who is staying outside the community due to health concerns. He has two children, ages 15 and 10. The older one wants to be an engineer. Like every father, he wants his children to have more opportunities than he had and radiates the eternal optimism needed to preserve in the face of adversity.

“When we relocate, we will need to keep working. They don’t offer us work here, even less so now at 50 years old,” he says. “We all think about planting palm trees.” The African palm is quite resistant to climate extremes and it is one of the key products in this part of Honduras.

The local government hopes to get land to relocate the entire community of Samar. Andrés hopes to plant palm trees and sell them to the large companies that buy palm from small producers, in addition to planting some on their own land. Hopefully this will be the case because, as Andrés explains, he was denied a loan he had applied for to buy a plot of land and begin to plant just before the storms hit.

A cold front is expected to arrive soon, the third blow to Honduras in just four weeks. “We are expecting more rain. We’ll figure it out, somehow,” Andrés says.