After the storm, no calm for ETA victims in the Sula Valley in northern Honduras

By: Dunia Orellana y Dennis Arita

Traducción: Telma Quiroz

San Pedro Sula

The coronavirus pandemic laid bare the inequality in Honduras and now the ETA storm leaves more exposed that the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez cares very little about the country’s poor, even though they are the ones who move the wheels of industry.

The storm has just plunged them into misery. Outraged residents of hundreds of neighborhoods submerged in dirty water suspect that the government deliberately and without warning opened the floodgates of the Francisco Morazán dam, nicknamed El Cajón. Thousands of people living in colonies in La Lima, Choloma, Villanueva, Pimienta, El Progreso, Puerto Cortés and San Pedro Sula were trapped on the second floors of their homes or the homes of others or ended up crowded onto the metal roofs, under the rain and sun.

One mystery is why the government announced on Thursday a flood “of two to four meters” by five in the morning on Friday, caused by “water coming down from the mountain. However, the water level dropped instead of rising. The rumor is that Hernandez’s contingency team, headed by Max Gonzales, is announcing fictitious lows and highs to supposedly manipulate public opinion. One theory already circulating among some political analysts is that the governing party is seeking to delay the presidential elections by claiming calamity in order to keep Juan Orlando Hernández in power.

The flood was mysteriously sudden and swift. It arrived like a thief in the early morning to hundreds of neighborhoods in sectors including Planeta, Rivera Hernandez and Chamelecon. “At half past four we were told that it was filling up. It filled up super fast, in about twenty minutes, I think. The current was exaggerated. There’s furniture thrown away, washing machines, everything,” says Heidi Montoya, who lives in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of the Planeta sector.  

We walk four kilometers to reach this colony, which belongs to the municipality of La Lima, where the inhabitants work in the maquila or engage in informal commerce. The walk begins where the cab left us, on 33rd street, in front of the Camosa company, concessionaire of the factory of the expensive Volvo cars. In front of us there are hundreds of cars waiting to move forward. There is more traffic than on Thursday, when we visited this same area to see the effects of the full house. The parade includes army trucks, police cars, cars pulling boats, low vehicles.

“Here I think there is a shelter,” says the cab driver as he charges us for the 350 lempiras of the race. He points to a crowd of people sitting on the sidewalk. Later, thousands of people pile up at the gas station at the end of 33rd Street, in the middle of the boulevard to San Pedro Sula and on the two trails of the road.

Most of the victims are walking or riding their bikes. Those who had a car left it underwater to escape the rapid flooding. They are carrying bags full of milk, toilet paper, cereals, sandwich packages, food plates and baleadas wrapped in film paper. People who give them food do so on their own or on behalf of religious and social organizations.

There are hundreds of abandoned cars in the dark water. On the right side of the boulevard, in the Jerusalem and San Cristobal neighborhoods, it has become stagnant. In the colonies on the right side it managed to drain a little more and it is now possible to enter the settlements that are closer to the boulevard.

On the way there are families sheltering in little plastic tents raised in the middle of the boulevard, in containers, in carts, in covered wagon packs where the youngest children can sleep. Silvia Sevilla’s children take refuge in a makeshift house in the back of a pickup truck. Silvia, her husband and eleven other family members fled from the San Francisco colony in the Planeta sector. Now they are sitting in a wagon to which they have tied a little pig. They also have a rooster with its leg tied to a bicycle lying on the muddy ground.

“In 21 years of living in the colony I haven’t seen anything like this,” says Silvia about the flood. “I ask the president to help us. Just as he needs one vote, he must also reciprocate. We are in the streets, we lost everything.

Near where Silvia’s children play in the “house” is Ilianeth Benedith, a Garifuna who escaped from the La Mesa colony in La Lima shortly before the flooding began. She did not take anything from her home. “My neighbors told me that they were trying to get their things out when the water broke,” she says. “Many people were left stranded there with no food or clothing.

Ilianeth is one of many Garifuna people settled in the northern colonies of Honduras. At the back of the Rivera Hernández sector, halfway between San Pedro Sula and La Lima. So far, the government reports more than 1.5 million people affected, at least 35 people dead, 20 bridges destroyed and 905 roads affected.

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