The sad part of Hurricane Mitch was the aftermath few want to talk about. There were bodies that washed up on beaches and in the mangroves. These remains were given a Christian burial but never identified. There was the daunting search for survivors. There was the lack of clean drinking water, there were no medical supplies, and no electricity. Nothing was clean or dry. Roofs had been ripped from above you.
To top things off a special hybrid breed of mosquitos appeared. More ferocious than any you’ve ever seen before, happily sucking away your blood. All that as you are sick, you are tired, and your soul is weary.
Then there are the heartwarming parts. That was the time when neighbors banded together to help each other. There were stories of the inhabitants of the small community of Mangrove Bight on the North Side of the island of Guanaja. Their homes were on stilts over the sea and with a massive storm surge their homes get swept away. The people tied themselves together with rope and wandered to higher ground. They ended up spending 72 hours lying flat on an old abandoned airstrip praying for Mitch to finally move on.
The Hurricane finally did move on. On the mainland of Honduras there were exceedingly more casualties, than in Guanaja, which took the full brunt of a category 5 hurricane for three days and nights. As many as 7,000 Hondurans lost their lives on the mainland due to flooding and moving debris.
The humanitarian aid that came in was overwhelming and not surprisingly, from foreigners. The unsung heroes of that tragedy on Guanaja are the crew members of the HMS Sheffield, a type 22 Frigate that was in service of the British Royal Navy at the time and was monitoring the hurricane as it was supposedly headed to Belize
You are sick, you are tired and your soul is weary.
The HMS Sheffield ended up coming to the aid of Guanaja. It’s crew quickly and efficiently removed the debris from the airport landing strip. They also loaned and then donated generators for the health clinics. The British sailors established the water supply from the reservoir. In short, they saved their bacon. I had the pleasure of flying over to Guanaja a week after the storm with the then British ambassador to Honduras. I thanked him profusely for the efforts being made by the crew of that HMS Sheffield on behalf of the people affected. We landed on a desolated island with not even a green blade of grass visible. They were trees snapped in half by the high winds. Even their bark was stripped bare from the trunks by the sand and salt. I had never seen anything like it before or since.
The Honduran government received a pardon of more than 60% of the national debt after the devastation left by Hurricane Mitch. You would think we would be far ahead 20 years after this extremely generous gesture, but alas we are not. We live in a third world country and at last check Honduras’ official debt for 2018 was over nine billion dollars.
You may ask if Guanaja received any government funds to help rebuild, any of the pardon of debt or incentives to rebuild the crippled economy post hurricane. Let’s put it this way: none of the major businesses that operated prior to that hurricane are in business now. That includes the hotels that operated for decades on Guanaja prior to Mitch: Posada del Sol and Bayman Bay Club. These were premier dive resorts that boasted celebrity visitors in the 1980s and 1990s. My heart brakes for the forgotten island of Guanaja.
As we live in the path of these ever-increasing massive hurricanes, we must all be prepared for a possible disaster. This is also an opportunity to discover the resilience of the human spirit.
The Bahamas have my best wishes for a speedy recovery and my condolences for the lives lost. There are so many examples of neighbors helping neighbors and foreign governments lending a hand. A catastrophe like this is also an opportunity for rebuilding and strengthening.