Tropical Storm Eta

A devastating Category 4 hurricane wreaks havoc in Central America

Photo by Cooperative for Education on Flickr.

— 3 minute read — By Maggie Gannon

Tropical Storm Eta became the 28th named Atlantic storm of the season, developing into a major Category 4 hurricane over the Caribbean Sea by 2nd November. The storm resulted in torrential rainfall which subsequently led to flooding and landslides throughout Honduras, Guatemala and Cuba. A mere fortnight later, Honduras was pummelled by a second hurricane, Iota. In a year where the COVID-19 pandemic has sprouted unemployment and exhausted national funds, the consecutive storms have shattered Honduras – already one of the poorest countries in Central America.

The heart of the storm first made landfall in the Nicaraguan region of Puerto Cabezas, which faces the Atlantic coast. The hurricane rapidly destroyed paths, trees and the corrugated metal homes of many citizens. As the destruction of powerlines left the city in complete darkness, around 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes and into shelters further inland. The storm began to rapidly escalate with winds of up to 145mph being recorded, but these slowly weakened as it began to draw into Honduras. However, as winds dissipated slightly, Honduras tragically confirmed its first storm related death – a 12-year-old girl who sadly passed away after a mudslide in San Pedro Sula, one of the most populated areas in northern Honduras. At this point, nearly 600 residents were reported to have been moved to shelters, with only 25 supposedly rescued.   

As the storm gradually moved into surrounding countries, rescue operations struggled to reach those worse affected. Extensive damage to roads and bridges weakened the already poor infrastructure. One particular rescue operation by the Guatemalan military found Queja, a remote mountainous village, completely engulfed by rain-induced mudslides. 100 people were killed, 22 of whom were from the same family. An army spokesman stated that it could take months for all of the demolished homes to be recovered.

In Costa Rica, a landslide incident resulted in 2 deaths – whilst El Salvador reported 1 male death, and Mexico estimated around 20 deaths. These numbers, however, are changing daily and, given the disjuncture of the foreign media, statistics are hard to gather and a definitive figure is hard to calculate. 

The national outcry of civilians is one that has been documented frequently on national and local media outlets throughout the month of November. A particular sense of anger has been felt in Honduras, directed at the Honduran government after they proposed a national holiday in efforts to boost the COVID-19-damaged economy. They went ahead with this event despite clear warnings of the storm and many felt as though the economy of the country was prioritised over their lives.

Aid workers remain seriously concerned that the number of COVID-19 infections will steadily rise due to the cramming of civilians in shelters. The damage to infrastructure has also resulted in a lack of hygiene and sanitation where it is most desperately needed. In addition to this, UNICEF have estimated that over 1.5 million children will be impacted by the storms.

Although the storm is far less devastating than Hurricane Mitch in 1998 (which took the lives of more than 11,000 people across Central America), its context and timing has increased the risk of COVID-19 infection, and overwhelmingly adds to the distress and suffering of those who have already lost so much this year. The recovery of many regions already remains uncertain, but the added complication of political anger during a global pandemic could extend its resolution far into the future.