As the end of the year approached, Hondurans began preparations for the Semana Morazanica, a week long holiday celebration that was supposed to revitalize the Honduran economy after an 8 month halt due to COVID-19. The pandemic took a huge toll on the economy. Many individuals lost their jobs and countless others were unable to work remotely. Honduras anticipated the wave of tourists attracted by the holiday as the first major step towards restarting the economy.
The Semana Morazanica, which usually occurs in the first week of October, was pushed to the first week of November due to complications from COVID-19. However, the celebration met some unexpected circumstances that dramatically affected the lives of many Hondurans. On November 4, 2020, Honduras was hit with Hurricane Eta, a level 4 hurricane at the time of impact. The hurricane first hit Nicaragua on November 3rd and quickly made its way to its neighboring country of Honduras.
Since its onset, all 18 departments have been impacted but the north western departments of Yoro, Santa Barbara, Copan, Colon, Atlantida, El Paraiso, and Intibuca felt its brunt.
The heavy rainstorms that the hurricane brought overflowed the rivers and flooded nearby villages. Houses became inundated and filled with mud. Roads became barriers as the roaring currents took everything that crossed its path.
The immense downpour caused mudslides along mountain terrain, sweeping anything or anyone on its path. The crop fields became swamps. In a matter of a days, Hondurans found their communities completely destroyed.
Residents were forced to evacuate immediately. Many abandoned all of their belongings with only the clothes on their back. When residents returned home, they found their houses in deplorable conditions or completely destroyed.
Hurricane Eta left the country vulnerable with more than 100 unserviceable health facilities. The WHO believes there are 500,000 individuals in need of health services.
The massive storm has been the most severe that Honduras has faced since the 1998 Hurricane Mitch, which resulted in over 11,000 deaths and $2 billion worth of damage.
Latina Republic interviewed Milton Turcios, a Honduran journalist who survived both Hurricane Mitch and Eta. Turcios’ around-the-clock reporting and journalism coverage throughout Hurricane Eta helped members of his community escape the dangers of the storm.
Latina Republic: What communities and types of reporting do you do?
Milton Turcios: My reporting has always been of a social nature. My journalism has always been focused on telling the stories of the needs of the population. Of course, I never leave news journalism aside, but it is more of a narrative in terms of the stories of the communities, of how people live, and stories like the natural disaster that we are living through. I also cover entrepreneurship stories. Everything that is history and that can benefit the communities as such, is the type of journalism that I do. I also do daily informative journalism on a newscast from 6 to 8 at night, from Monday to Friday.
Latina Republic: Why do you tell these stories and who are your stories for?
Milton Turcios: I tell these stories because we want citizens to have positive examples of people engaging in acts of greatness and support for others, like the article your organization wrote about a Honduran girl who was sharing her internet for free during COVID-19. This story of a girl who gives her Internet to the most needy during the crisis is important because when COVID-19 hit Honduras, the children had no way to send their homework through mobile devices, especially in the case of children from low economic families.
This girl decided to open her house and tell the community, “Here is my house, here is my internet. I want to help you. If you need help with your homework, I can give you tutorials. If you cannot send your assignments through social networks, I will help you.”
Of course, there are stories that I have to tell so that they can benefit many people, such as what is happening at the moment with Hurricane Eta. I tell these stories so that the national and international community can listen.
Imagine that at midnight, the river impacted my community. At 12 a.m. I was the reporter who was watching how the water was entering the communities. At that time, through my Facebook live, I was able to reach a large number of families and the families managed to leave their homes.
Unfortunately, they lost their property, but they did not lose their lives because there was a reporter who was there at that time of night reporting and risking his life to get people out of their homes.
That is what impacts me and fills me the most with life, so that is why I continue to do it. However, journalism in Honduras is dangerous and difficult, so one has to find a way to do journalism in a way that does not cause discomfort to the authorities but can benefit the population.
Through the exercise of journalism, people can save lives and attract help. That’s why I tell these stories and I want the world to know that there is a great need here, and many areas where support is urgent.
Latina Republic: How is Honduras managing COVID-19? Has the country reopened?
Milton Turcios: Honduras began warning the population about security measures, late. They were quite late. There was, or continues to be, a collapsed health system with little equipment, few doctors, and nurses. So, this has caused COVID-19 to spread in addition to our culture, sometimes we do not take measures on time.
We have had a large number of deaths. We have more than 2,900 deaths and more than 100,000 people infected with COVID-19. The entire country is infected with COVID-19.
For the most part, we walk every day with a mask, we do not take off the mask in the towns of the cities. When we walk, there are always one or two who walk unprepared. It has impacted the elderly. It has impacted health professionals. Many doctors have died in the country precisely because they have not had all the supplies to be able to work against COVID-19.
Latina Republic: When did Eta hit? Can you describe what happened? What was its impact?
Milton Turcios: On November 3rd , Eta hits Nicaragua and if it hits Nicaragua, it hits Honduras through the Gracias a Dios department border. It hits on November 3rd. On November 4th, the storms were already beginning. There was still no alert. The population was not yet informed. The population was not being warned through national alerts. We were planning for the Semana Morazánica to open up the economy and boost companies and hotels. We were more concerned with that than with worries of hurricanes coming to Honduras.
On the 5th and 6th, the rivers Ulúa and Chamelecón, some of the largest rivers that Honduras has, were flooding. Those rivers overflowed directly on the cities and departments with the greatest economic influence, which is the north coast of the country, where the cities have been completely flooded. Neighborhoods and colonies have been completely flooded. Businesses, completely flooded. Between November 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th, Honduras felt the passage of Hurricane Eta.
That night, I recorded the entry of water into the house caused by the overflow of the river. The next day, I was the only reporter in the area at the time because I anticipated what would happen next. Years earlier, I had survived Hurricane Mitch on the roof of my house, in the Choluteca area, the southern part of the country.
Then, I moved to another place to live and when Hurricane Eta started, I already knew what could happen. I knew that I had to inform people as soon as possible so that they could leave their homes. Precisely on November 6 and 7, we began to report day after day without sleeping, always trying to charge my camera, little by little, to continue recording.
At 6 in the morning, the sun rises, and we begin to see the great destruction that Hurricane Eta had left behind. It was shocking. It was difficult to describe. Only the photos and videos that I took can describe it. Quite difficult.
Some of the people that I interviewed lost their homes. Those who live in the villages within the mountains, far from the city, suddenly heard a crash caused by shifting land that collapsed on top of their houses and they ran away. There was no time to record. There was no time to watch videos. The next day, we, as the press, went to see everything that happened in the area and we found the buried houses.
It was hard. In this case, thank God, they did not lose their lives. But in other places, like Santa Barbara, the river entered and took entire families.
At the moment, there is a man in the hospital who survived, but he lost his dad and his girls and now he is asking where his daughters are. No one has been able to tell him. It is very complicated. It is very difficult.
Latina Republic: What regions were affected by the hurricane? Which populations are left most vulnerable due to the hurricane?
Milton Turcios: The area of the department of Cortés was impacted by the hurricane and greatly affected low income populations. The people who are unable to buy their land and who had moved to the river unfortunately, lost what little they had gained.
Latina Republic: How will this situation affect the COVID-19 pandemic in Honduras?
Milton Turcios: Overcrowding. In the case of the Quebrada village in Santa Barbara, experts say will become uninhabitable. At this moment, more than 70 families, 200 people, are assigned to very small rooms when the spread of COVID-19 is precisely through the contact of people.
There are so many people assigned to one place, to rooms in the city, shelters, and in the schools. Of course, they have tried to bring doctors to do faster tests and detect COVID-19 to isolate people with symptoms. There is also the unavoidable contact created by rescues.
An example, the firefighter below rescues a child. In that moment, they are not thinking of COVID-19. They are thinking, “let’s tie ourselves into a single knot and get through this.”
A firefighter rescuing a child by ziplining themselves across a strong current. Courtesy of Milton Turcios.
The number of people in shelters, human contact, solidarity, and taking food from one family to another family will also generate the spread of COVID that Honduras, unfortunately, has not had that capacity to respond to.
Latina Republic: How will this affect the future of the individuals who lost their homes due to the flooding and landslides?
Milton Turcios: I don’t know what the impact will be but when I approach them to ask about their house, and their land, one realizes that there is also the psychological impact, the feeling that at an advanced age, they cannot leave an inheritance to their children or a legacy because they are going to have to start over.
Some of their children are going to have to forget about going to a university or college. The emotional impact for the families that have lost everything is very serious. They realize that the government can only provide immediate welfare at the moment but for these problems, losing a home, the land, the crops, it will take many years to rebuild their lives.
When Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras, 22 years ago, an organization arrived in Cholultecas that helped us to build homes. I was a child when Hurricane Mitch took my home and when I started building my house.
Imagine the families that live in the heights. They are going to have to fight to rebuild their houses, to rebuild everything they had, including their coffee farms because Santa Bárbara is a coffee department. So it is very difficult now, and it will be very complicated to rebuild.
Latina Republic: In your reporting of the storm, can you share personal or family stories of how the impact of Eta was felt at the individual and local levels?
Milton Turcios: I have personal stories. I can start with my own. I live in a place where no river crosses. The only thing affecting us right now is food shortage, and water shortage but we have not lost our home. I’m here. Thank God, I am still in my home.
I have acquaintances and friends who tell stories like the lady, who lost her house and who sold pastries, fast food, in Santa Barbara and lost her business. My neighbor, who writes to me and tells me, “My house is flooding.” He lives in another department. He writes me and sends me videos saying, “Milton, I’m sending you a video from the top of my house. I’m standing on the roof. We are flooded.” These are the types of stories that people tell me.
Latina Republic: What are organizations in Honduras doing to help those affected?
Milton Turcios: Right now, the issue is food and supplies. The organizations we count on are packing boxes of food. Those who have money are buying them. They are looking for help at the national and international level and they are currently assisting the families who are in the shelters.
Organizations are helping with medical brigades and psychological care. They are organizing children’s motivational campaigns so that children who are in shelters can watch their movies and have fun. That is what organizations are doing right now. Of course, the most difficult issue that requires more funds is the construction of the families’ homes.
They are helping with the relocation, the business turnaround, how the SMEs are going to get up, which are the engine of the economy in the country. The small businesses have lost everything. So far, that is what the organizations that are currently in the country and are in these areas are doing.
“The community for the community” is one hashtag being circulated on social media. There is another one, “un solo nudo,” which means, a single knot. These are some of the phrases that are arising in reports made in the community. The youth are organizing to help the towns. They are using social media to get organized and have started collecting food, distributing them on donkeys or on their own backs in places out of reach, where vehicles cannot enter. Nowadays to bring aid, one has to cross rivers using improvised bridges placed atop the waters.
The waters have taken all infrastructure. What used to be a road is now a river. Some areas are un-walkable. Our young people are bringing help to these areas.
Latina Republic: Is Eta also affecting neighboring countries?
Milton Turcios: Hurricane Eta also impacted Nicaragua. Gracias a Dios and some departments of Nicaragua are areas of mestizos, who speak their own dialect, their own language. They are people who live in champas. The hurricane impacted there and Nicaragua, just like Honduras, has had disappearances.
Nicaragua also had houses and stretches of roads destroyed like Honduras. We are in the same conditions with the difference that in Honduras, the landslides have generated many more deaths. Many more Honduran citizens have died.
According to COPECO statistical data, in Honduras there are 58 dead, almost 120,000 evacuated and almost 3,000,000 people, a third of the population, seriously affected.
We are 9 million inhabitants and a third of the population has been directly affected by Hurricane Eta in three main departments.
Latina Republic: How are Central American countries helping each other recover from Eta?
Milton Turcios: The Central American country that has been closely linked to Honduras is El Salvador.
El Salvador has given a large amount of humanitarian aid through the Salvadoran Red Cross. The relief team from El Salvador has traveled to Honduras to the most affected regions to bring food, first aiders, and doctors to these areas.
President Bukele sent aid directly to Honduran homes, to deliver what the people needed, which was the food and medical consultations provided by the Green Cross of El Salvador.
Latina Republic: How do you believe that your news platform is helping those affected?
Milton Turcios: In addition to everything we have published, we remain connected, in constant communication. As the storm stirred the river, I was reporting on it through Facebook live. There were 3,000 people connected at that time, and many were leaving their homes watching the transmission through their cellphones.
At that moment, I started broadcasting and a whole neighborhood managed to escape. They managed to get out on time thanks to those transmissions. Thanks to these broadcasts, groups of young people mobilized in solidarity.
The broadcasts inspired the population to stay encouraged, to show solidarity with its people. The transmissions alerted people to leave the most vulnerable places and directed community support.
In the aftermath, witnessing the impact left behind by such a natural disaster, the people organized and began rescue missions. The aid began to arrive, people began lifting the rubbles to be able to support the families. All this help happened thanks to the transmission of vital information.
When the river started to overflow, we were there. In the before, in the during, and in its aftermath, information has never stopped.
Latina Republic: How can others who are not in Honduras help the communities affected by Hurricane Eta?
Milton Turcios: If there are organizations, teams, and people who want to support, get organized and come to Honduras if you would like to offer your support. Get connected with us here, get informed, learn about how and what is needed. We can use your help.
I think that diplomatic help is also necessary. Highly supportive help such as the construction of homes for these families, who are so many of them in need, is also important. I have seen Hondurans in the United States get organized. They have sent containers of donations. They have sent food to the country and it has arrived, but the heavy lifting work can be done here.
The population has activated, and they have said that it is better for the organizations to be directed towards the population, not towards the state. International organizations, in this case, could first see what is happening here, see the immediate need so that they can have a greater impact, and be able to help directly.
Latina Republic: As we wrap up the interview, can you tell our readers what are some things the outside world does not know about Honduras and its people?
Milton Turcios: We are quite hard-working. We are always on our feet. We have been struck down by corruption, natural disasters, and COVID-19. But we are ready to work. We are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who want to help us. Everyone has to know that. Like we did with Hurricane Mitch, we are ready to work from day to night to raise the houses with volunteers who are ready to help.
Another way that individuals can help those affected by Hurricane Eta is to donate to the GoFundMe page that was created by community members to aid those victims with the basic necessities that many do not have. Through continuous solidarity, we, as an international community, have the ability to help Honduras rise from this unfortunate situation.
My name is Margarita Salazar, and I am currently a senior at Mount Saint Mary’s University, where I will obtain my Sociology degree. I am a product of two immigrant individuals who traveled to the United States to escape the turmoil they faced in their home countries in Latin America. As a result of many of my Salvadoran family members currently seeking refuge in the United States, I have found myself connecting more with the immigrant community through voluntary work at a refugee and family service center that also assists my family members. This experience has exposed me to cultural, political, and economic issues that immigrants in the United States face and made me want to pursue a career in community outreach within the immigrant population. While working with these organizations, I also realized how important storytelling is when amplifying these commonly suppressed voices. I believe that storytelling is a powerful tool used to educate audiences about social issues that are often silenced or promote current innovations that are not typically broadcasted on a large scale. Latina Republic is a great platform to not only reinforce these voices but also for individuals to connect and become inspired by them. Through my experience with Latina Republic, I hope to make meaningful connections with individuals and their stories that will influence me to strengthen my advocacy for immigrant rights.