Nov 23rd, 2020, 01:00 PM

Eta and Iota

By Sofia Quintero
Image Credit: Unsplash via NASA
In 15 days, Central America has been hit with two Category 4 hurricanes, affecting over 2 million people and leaving devastation in their wakes.

When the second nationwide lockdown was announced in France on October 28, I decided to fly back to my home country of Costa Rica. I left Paris on the first flight back on October 31. After the 12-hour flight, I noticed something unusual; the landing process was taking longer than it should. I experienced something I had never before. Just before we were about to hit the runway, the plane accelerated and soared off into the sky. As the airport looked further and further away, the captain explained the weather was a bit foggy. There was little visibility to land properly. The airport's control tower kept us flying in circles for about an hour until we were finally able to land. I was a bit confused when I noticed it was not raining at all, and there was no fog once we touched the ground.

As I rode in the car with my parents on my way home, they briefly mentioned Hurricane Eta. This new hurricane had begun to form in the Caribbean and was heading toward Central America. This information did not stay long in my mind. I thought to myself we would probably be stuck inside for a couple of days of heavy rain but nothing out of the usual considering we are in the tropics. 

When I woke up on November 1, I could barely look out the window. Later that morning, the government announced Hurricane Eta's arrival, warning it was now a Category 4 hurricane and was approaching rapidly. It rained for a week straight. Costa Rica's National Meteorological Institute was alarmed that there would be heavy rainfalls along the Pacific coastline, which would result in floods and landslides. Although in Costa Rica hurricane Eta briefly passed through, Nicaragua and Honduras were gravely affected by the storms. Eta peaked at 150 mph, as it slowed tremendously off the coast of Nicaragua on November 3. The hurricane unleashed a devastating aftermath in these countries, leaving at least 2.2 million people without a home, damaged roads, collapsed bridges and causing complete isolation of many communities. Eta is the strongest storm to impact the region since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

As I watched the news of how the hurricane was affecting the rest of the countries in Central America, it was clear to me that Costa Rica was one of the least affected. Even with this realization, it was shocking to see the damage that Eta had done. According to CNE president Alexander Solis, Hurricane Eta affected 440 communities and an estimated 330,000 people in Costa Rica. The National Roadway Council also reported "nearly 15 million [USD] in damages" to Costa Rica's infrastructure.

By the second day of the hurricane, the situation looked a lot worse in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. Many were called in missing in Guatemala after the rain tore off the side of a mountain, burying the village of Queja. In the city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras, countless homeowners were trapped for days on rooftops without food or water because the rivers and flood canals had overflowed so high. In Nicaragua, at least 120 people died in flash floods and mudslides. 

I looked outside my window and watched the rain pour down the ceiling. Tears came into my eyes as I imagined the fear, uncertainty, panic, and devastation of thousands of lives who were so close to me. Central America has always been considered separate from the rest of Latin America. The seven nations that make up Central America feel like a community and Hurricane Eta was devastating to all of us.

On November 9, Hurricane Eta left Central America. It headed towards the Florida Keys, but it had died down and was now considered a tropical storm. 

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Eta, Central America's governments announced fear that a second storm was bound to hit the same regions once again. Tropical Storm Iota finished what Eta had not. Images emerged showing piles of wind-tossed lumber that used to be homes and concrete walls that were pounded into pieces. Iota arrived in Nicaragua on November 16, with winds of 160mph. Iota also touched on El Salvador and Honduras. Before reaching Central America, Hurricane Iota made its way through two islands in Colombia: Providencia, and San Andres. Colombian President Ivan Duque said one person was killed, and 98% of the island's infrastructure was affected.

Iota is now considered the "strongest storm to hit Nicaragua in the country's history." Throughout Central America, over 62,000 people have been moved into 683 government shelters following the storm. Maite Matheu, the Honduras Country Director, talked to CARE about the situation in Honduras. For Honduras to receive Hurricane Iota less than 15 days after Eta's arrival in the country is a human tragedy as 74 people have died, thousands have lost their homes and livelihoods, and the impact on national infrastructure is not yet calculated.

According to the Red Cross, more than 3.6 million people across Central America have been affected by the storms. In Guatemala, dozens of people in the village of San Cristobal remain missing after a landslide swept through, leaving mud 50 feet deep in some places."

With Eta causing more than 130 deaths around Central America, flash floods, and mudslides, and then Hurricane Iota causing even more damage, the region of Central America has called a state of emergency. With the hurricane season scheduled to end on November 30, these countries struggle to rebuild and stay afloat.

How can you help? Food for the Poor is "one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the United States." Working specifically with the Caribbean and Latin America, they provide "emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for orphaned and abandoned children, care for the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance." Donating and helping from afar has never been easier. Items accepted include non-perishable foods, canned milk, baby food and cereal, diapers, baby wipes, blankets, gently used clothes, adult diapers, personal hygiene products, shovels, rain boots, raincoats, work gloves, trash bags, buckets, insect repellent, sleeping mats, and first-aid items (Band-Aids, bandages, gauze, and kits).