A Samaritan’s Purse team had just set up a field hospital on Nov. 14 in Honduras to help victims of Hurricane Eta when Iota started bearing down on them. The team rushed to drop the tents, strap them down, and move equipment to higher ground before the second hurricane arrived, said Kelly Suter, the ministry’s medical director.
“It really gave us a unique perspective to be able to weather the storm with the community,” Suter said. “I think it adds another layer of compassion.”
The two hurricanes killed at least 150 people and left more than 100 others missing. The United Nations reported the weather affected more than 5 million people in Honduras and eight other Central American countries. Floodwaters drenched entire communities, destroyed crops, and left many people in shelters and on the streets. Several places remained flooded this week, and aid workers worry the needs, combined with the pandemic, could last for a while.
In Nicaragua, the storms damaged 16 of 81 health facilities and destroyed 4,000 homes. Groups such as Healing Hands International sent containers of food, medical supplies, and other relief items to Nicaragua and Honduras, said Joseph Smith, the vice president of operations. In Guatemala, more than 200,000 people sought refuge in shelters, according to the country’s disaster prevention agency.
In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, only large vehicles could drive across the flooded street on the right side of the Samaritan’s Purse’s field hospital this week. Suter said the team dug canals around the tents, pumped water away from the clinic, and used gravel to cover up to 4 inches of mud so supply trucks could arrive. The mission plans to deploy mobile teams to communities that are harder to reach this week, Suter said.
Water Mission set up its Honduran office in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch killed more than 11,000 people in Honduras and other Central American countries. David Inman, the mission’s director of Latin America and Caribbean programs, said the organization partnered with the country’s national disaster service to move stranded people to shelters. The team has also delivered safe water to shelters and plans to distribute water purifying systems to some affected areas. In Tocoa, Honduras, members of one community church prepared and delivered food to shelters, Inman added.
Some 28 youth-led nonprofits worked together after Eta hit to raise funds and send food and clothes to the region, said Rafael Jerez Moreno, the founder of Informed Vote Honduras. But after Iota hit just two weeks later, donations and support declined, he said. “All of this happened in the middle of the pandemic,” Moreno added. “Something sustainable needs to be done.”
Fears of infectious diseases are growing in the wake of the two storms, Suter said. The Samaritan’s Purse clinic has already treated patients with gastrointestinal illnesses from dirty water, skin infections, malaria, and childhood respiratory illnesses.
“The patients we’re seeing come in shell-shocked. We have patients that haven’t eaten in days, on the streets,” she said. “We try to bring some hope, show them people care, that they’re going to be okay.”