2020 Central American Hurricanes: live blog

Just as Central America has begun to dry out from Hurricane Eta, Hurricane Iota is on path to bring even more devastating wind, rain and crisis. The disasters of back-to-back hurricanes add incredible stress to weak public welfare and health systems. LWR Staffers Carrie Taneyhill, Nicholas Siler and Matt Hackworth are in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, assessing the needs from Hurricanes Eta and Iota.

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Wednesday, November 18

MH: The winds have slowed, the world's news attention has turned elsewhere. Hurricane Iota has fallen off the world's radar overnight but the rain, the landslides, the heartache and the challenges remain, as do we. We're keeping a keen eye out for initial assessment data, driven by international agencies like the UN, Red Cross and Honduras' government. The road back to Tegucigalpa is washed out, so it looks like we'll be here for a while.

CT: The name of the game today is divide and conquer. We are trying to turn around an emergency proposal for government funding in 48 hours, which is no easy feat. One person capturing destruction from Iota, another working at our partner's office to answer critical questions for our response and then two of us at the hotel toiling away in our rooms. It's days like today I am beyond grateful to have such an amazing team because this work cannot be done alone. Time to roll up my sleeves and get back to work...

Tuesday, November 17

3 p.m. MH: We've waited out the storm at the hotel. The rain, continuing to come in bands, is steady but manageable enough for us to go out on an initial assessment.

8:24 a.m. MH: Our hotel could double as a convention of aid organizations. There are enough white trucks out front to fill a dealership, their whip antennas beat to the pulses of the wind. The breakfast room is crowded with conversation, CNN Espanol streaming off to the side, muted.

That's when we hear the first roar of Iota's bands, a crescendo that drowns out conversation.

Everyone stops and looks up.

4:30 a.m., MH: The rain is falling outside and will for some time, as Iota soaks up ocean water like a sponge to dump on Nicaragua and Honduras. I'm in a hotel room, dry and safe, in San Pedro Sula's city center. But she's not.

This is just one of the faces haunting us as we listen to rain thunder on the hotel's roof and windows and hear the driving wind echo through the lobby- walls and a roof this young one, and thousands like her, don't have.

The rain has fallen steadily and softly since around 8 p.m. last night when we had our last meal out, one final bit of food guaranteed not to come from a Styrofoam cup.

But what has she eaten? Where is she staying to ride out the storm?

I Imagine she's clutching her mother, lying on the ground in that highway median, their blue tarp flapping overhead in a thunderous din, her fright tightening his grip on her mother's blouse with each wayward gust.

Monday, November 16 

NS: The anticipation of Hurricane Iota is difficult for responders like us, yet it's nowhere as difficult as it is for those who have no home, or no shelter to ride out the storm. The streets in any direction out of San Pedro Sula are lined with many families, newly homeless, hiding from today’s sun under blue tarps, plastic ads or anything else that may provide a bit of cover. It may shield from the first bands of rain, but it's no match for the tumult to come. For many, there was little time to prepare fully on such short notice for yet another storm. The faces we see weigh heavily on our minds and our hearts. Where will they go?

MH: For ourselves, we'll ride out the storm at our hotel. We've stocked up on non-perishable food and secured a water boiler, just in case. Our hope is nothing in this grocery cart will be needed – but experience is a brutal teacher. We'll take one last hot shower, make sure all the batteries on all the devices are charged and have one more guaranteed hot meal before hunkering down. We continue to connect with partners and keep a pulse on needs and plan a response.

But first? We have to ride out Iota ourselves.

Saturday, November 14

CT: The shelters are overwhelmed. We visited four shelters at various parts of the city, all housing people who live in lower-income communities – communities on the lowest points of land, a swamp filled in with someone's dashed hopes for fields full of crops. The low areas are vulnerable to flooding and, because they're in poorer communities, less of a priority for potable water and sewer services. That's evident from the smell of shelters that are crowded, and at risk for coronavirus spreading.

A young evacuee sits inside a group of student desks outlining her family's space at Edgarado Alanis Lagos School on the outskirts of Lima, Honduras. The community evacuated for Hurricane Eta and evacuated again for Iota.

Friday, November 13

MH: We're finally in the disaster zone, and I've started to feel like we're finally getting somewhere on our response. We left San Pedro Sula to head into the mountains, to see how the storm impacted the cocoa farmers we support. The news isn't good – we saw patches buried under mud deeper than I am tall. Buried with it are the hopes and dreams of struggling young farmers hoping for a brighter future by cracking in to a cocoa market stilted against newcomers and independent farmers. The bulbous pods still drip moisture from Hurricane Eta, ushering in the mold that will kill the crop – and the promise of stable income that will keep families fed.

From our Facebook page:

Many families, forced from their homes by Hurricane Eta, have no other choice but to live under tarps and old vinyl billboard ads in a highway median. This is how families in San Pedro Sula will ride out #TropicalStormIota.

Please join us in praying for the safety of families here, and throughout the path of the storm...and please give a gift to our World of Good emergency fund to reach them with life-saving emergency supplies.

Wednesday, November 11

CT: I woke up and packed up my final items, moving at a leisurely pace. As a seasoned traveler, I never check a bag (even for a 3-week trip) and generally waltz to the airport around 90 minutes before takeoff. Then my phone beeped with a message from Nick telling me to get to the airport ASAP because the line at the check-in desk was crazy long. Still dubious, I arrived to find the line snaking through almost the entire terminal. We were finally told a bag belt had broken then the computers crashed. There was no way we were going to make our 7 a.m. flight to Miami. Given my COVID-19 test would expire the next day, I needed to be on that plane. A quick search of the boards showed a 7:25 flight on another airline to Fort Lauderdale. We ran to the opposite end of the ticketing counters and a nice agent helped us get on the flight (technically we weren't allowed to purchase tickets since it was less than one hour before takeoff but he worked some magic). Fortunately, we landed with plenty of time to hitch a ride from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, check in on our original ticket (another awesome ticket counter employee!) and met up with our other colleagues at the gate. This cemented my idea that I need to apply for the Amazing Race.

Tuesday, November 10

MH: Travel snarls happen, and the novel coronavirus has made them worse. It's confused an already onerous system, not to mention befuddled me and the ticket agent checking me in at my home airport in Memphis. The agent doesn’t think the results of my COVID-19 test "looked official enough." I asked the staffer where the airline's policy is posted to see what outlines "official enough." She can't tell me and refuses to issue me a ticket to board my flight to Houston and, ultimately, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I call our travel company and they're equally befuddled, and cannot get an answer to what is needed to board and then to enter Honduras, which requires the test documentation. So it's an hour and a half drive back to my home and then the clinic that tested me, where staff were incredibly helpful in making everything look as official as could be. Stamps, letterhead, signatures, burned sage … whatever. At least I get one more night in my own bed.

Thursday, November 5

MH: Determining that we want to help is the easiest part. Determining how, when and to what goal is the hardest part. After planning, meetings and more emails than I care to count, our colleagues have reached the decision that we can be most useful as extra hands (and eyes and ears) on the ground in Hurricane Eta's wake. I've only been home from a three-week swing through the Middle East for a couple of weeks, and so I have considerable details to address on the home front. Thankfully, my wife is understanding, in as much as she knows I’d be more miserable (and difficult) if I weren't part of the initial assessment team. So it's time to pack a bag and, more directly, (yet again) to get a COVID-19 test.

Emergency Situation Reports

2020 Hurricanes in Central America Situation Report No. 3

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Nov 16, 2020

 

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