In the wake of the devastation wrought by hurricanes Eta and Iota, Dr. Oriel María Siu repeatedly heard one painful phrase: “We lost everything. Everything.”
That is the grim reality for many living in the city of San Pedro Sula—located in the Department of Cortés—and many more living in the other northwestern Honduran Departments of Copán, Yoro, Santa Bárbara, Atlántida and Colón, nearly six weeks after the Category 4 Hurricane Eta hit.
Eta devastated Central America, killing at least 189 people (at least 74 of those deaths were reported in Honduras) and causing upto $5.5 billion in damages throughout the region. And just two weeks later, the region was hammered again by the Category 5 Hurricane Iota.
But for Dr. Siu, who lives in San Pedro Sula and who has witnessed first hand the devastation as a result of massive flooding, standing by was not an option. Upon seeing the magnitude of the disaster caused by five days of unrelenting rain, Dr. Siu started a GoFundMe to buy beds for those who lost everything.
“When the rain finally stopped, my family and I went to go see if the street dogs that live at my partner’s business were OK. But as we drove there, literally thousands of people—entire families, elders and children—were out on the main road with whatever objects they had been able to rescue and take with them,” Dr. Siu told El Tecolote. “I decided then, I couldn’t just watch this, that I could use my social media contacts in the U.S. to help as many families during these times because everyone here knows that the government would not, has not, and is not, going to help.”
Since Eta and Iota, Dr. Oriel and her family have raised $5,604 in donations and have distributed dozens of beds.
“I know the GoFundMe won’t solve all the pain or the loss, nor be able to reach everyone in need. But right now, gifting a bed to families who lost it all means a lot to people. You can see this when they cry of gratitude. It hurts me so much,” Dr. Siu said. “I cannot say fundraising and handing out beds has been a rewarding experience. It makes me furious to know that the funds exist to help everyone out, but that the Government chooses to keep them.”
Not mincing her words, Dr. Siu pins the majority of the blame on the government of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who did little to warn Hondurans of the impending Hurricanes and who has done little since.
“The great majority of people here in Honduras did not prepare for Hurricane Eta because the corrupt Government of Juan Orlando Hernández did not care to alert people about the magnitude of Eta,” Dr. Siu told El Tecolote, who said that the week Eta hit the Honduran mainland on Nov. 3, Hernández was prioritizing the hotel and tourism industry with mounting pressure to ease Honduras’ COVID-19 travel restrictions. “The JOH administration was still enticing people to go out on vacation that very week, to stay in hotels, to visit the beaches, merely saying to “be careful” of traveling in the midst of the global pandemic, despite all international media alerting about Eta.”
According to Dr. Siu, it wasn’t until Nov. 5—two days after Eta hit—that Hernández’s administration began to alert Hondurans about Eta, which by then many areas were already flooded.
“Juan Orlando Hernández, his corruption and his inaction, killed Hondurans during Eta,” Dr. Siu said. “He prioritized aiding the hotel industry over people, their homes, and their lives. This, unfortunately, only adds to the list of committed atrocities by this administration, among them, the $500 million he has stolen during the pandemic. Still, nine months later, there is no sight of any of the 11 hospitals or 94 clinics he would build.”
Siu is referring to the National Congress of Honduras, who in March approved $420 million in Coronavirus relief. According to Honduran news media outlet Contra Corriente, some members of that congress are currently being investigated for embezzlement. “With this measure, the health system will generate around 10 thousand new jobs over the next five years and build 11 hospitals, 17 clinics, 27 health centers, and 40 primary care centers around the country,” said Hernández after the bill was passed.
The damage caused by Eta and Iota is being compared to Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed at least 7,000 Hondurans and sparked mass migration. And according to Dr. Siu, caravans of people who lost everything in the storm are heading north.
“One migrant caravan already left San Pedro Sula and is on its way to the United States. It left on Dec. 9. Another one, the “Megacaravana,” is scheduled for February 2021. This speaks volumes about the lack of hope there is here in Honduras for recovery,” Dr. Siu said. “Everyone here agrees that Eta and Iota were far more calamitous than Mitch. The survival stories are chilling.”
And while much help is still needed, Dr. Siu recommends that people continue to donate to reliable organizations or individuals on the ground.
“From the moment international aid, in the form of supplies, food, clothes, and other things Hondurans in the U.S. have sent, started arriving in Honduras for hurricane victims, the JOH administration determined that every single item coming from the outside would have to be channeled through the Government, specifically through COPECO,” Dr. Siu said. “This has resulted in the aid not reaching the communities in need. I hope people in the U.S. can understand this, and instead find reliable organizations on the ground to send monetary help to. Here, these funds can be either gifted directly to the victims, or needed items can be obtained for them.”
Aside from government incompetence, these back-to-back hurricanes are also among a trend in extreme weather predicted by climate scientists. That fact isn’t lost on Dr. Siu.
“To blame are the extractivists, polluting cultures of capitalism, fully supported, financed, and mostly carried out by large companies, both national and transnational, which carry out their life-destroying operations with the full support of corrupt governments, as is the case of Honduras,” Dr. Siu said. “Berta Cáceres was killed for saying this and for fighting against this. As these practices not only continue to displace indigenous peoples from their homelands in the region, pushing people to have to migrate, they also destroy the life of the earth. Nature is not infinite. It is finite. And as Berta said, ¡Ya no hay tiempo!”