Mitch Ravages Lives and Hopes
In what ranks as the deadliest natural disaster to strike Central America this century, Hurricane Mitch swept through the region, leaving a vast trail of ruin in its wake.
In Honduras and Nicaragua, the two hardest-hit countries, few areas escaped the unprecedented, five-day deluge which dropped up to two feet of water each day, triggering mud slides and flooding rivers that sucked everything in their paths to its destruction.
Honduran President Carlos Flores has appealed for help, saying, “We have before us a panorama of death, desolation and ruin in all of the national territory.” In Honduras and Nicaragua, an estimated 11,000 lives have been lost, with several thousand more missing and a million homeless.
Relief supplies have begun to arrive in response to pleas by the country’s leaders, but much more will be needed to repair the losses in these two countries, which already rate among the poorest in the western hemisphere. Combined economic losses are estimated at $5 billion, the equivalent of nearly half their gross national products, in addition to the $4.5-5 billion that will be lost as a result of the now-crippled agricultural industry. In Honduras, 90 percent of banana production was affected, according to Vice President Billy Handal. An official for the UN World Food Program, Rosa Antolin, stated, “There are no crops to harvest, few wild foods to forage for and no animals to slaughter. The destruction is huge…. In just one day the region has been set back 20 years.”
The threat of epidemics and food shortages now looms in many areas where supplies can be delivered only by air. In Honduras, 93 bridges are out along major highways, including 45 that are completely destroyed, and all major cities are cut off from one another.
The future will certainly be a difficult one for these devastated countries—the latest victims of an intensifying wave of weather-related disasters that continues to impact its targets worldwide.