By Jose Cabezas
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Reuters) – Willian Castro and his family huddled on the roof of a banana packing plant for three days as Hurricane Eta raged last month, seeking to escape the torrential rains and floods that swept through his home and thousands of others.
His city of San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras was one of the areas worst hit by Eta and Hurricane Iota, which struck just two weeks later, deepening the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic in Central America.
Castro, 34, worked as a barber from his home, which was destroyed in the storms. He is now considering following thousands of Hondurans before him who saw emigration north as a way out of poverty.
“We will have to start over,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. If not, I’ll have to think about what many have done in the past, go to the United States.”
For now, Castro is living in a friend’s house near San Pedro Sula. Private organizations have given his family food, and neighbors who receive remittances from relatives in the United States have also helped.
“The government has not given us anything,” Castro said.
Julissa Mercado, a spokeswoman for government disaster agency COPECO, said the area around San Pedro Sula received food aid, but that it was inevitable that some people would say they had not received assistance.
Nationwide, some 4.5 million people – half the Honduran population – have been impacted by the hurricanes and their aftermath, including landslides and rain that submerged entire communities, the government said. More than 85,200 homes were damaged and 6,100 destroyed.
In Castro’s old neighborhood, the accumulated rainwater is a meter high in some areas, and downed power poles and trees, furniture and appliances still clutter the streets.
Some 95,000 people in San Pedro Sula have taken refuge in shelters. Thousands of others sleep each night in flimsy sheds made of wood and plastic sheets, on sidewalks or under bridges.
President Juan Orlando Hernandez has called for help from other nations. “It’s the worst disaster that we have experienced in the history of the Republic of Honduras,” he said on Thursday at an event recognizing first responders.
Even before the twin storms, which also killed 100 people, Honduras was expecting an economic contraction of 10.5% this year due to the pandemic.
“After losing their homes, assets and even their jobs, people who were already poor are now even worse off,” said Nelson Garcia, director of the Mennonite Social Action Commission (CASM), a human rights organization.
(Reporting by Jose Cabezas and Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Adriana Barrera, Editing by Daina Beth Solomon and John Stonestreet)