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Hurricanes Leave Central America Devastated — Temporary Protected Status is a Crucial Tool in U.S. Response

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Back-to-back hurricanes have left portions of the Central American region devastated, most notably Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Hurricanes Eta and Iota swept across the region, displacing more than half a million people with exceptional damage that is just now beginning to be understood in totality. 

The destruction has even prompted the Honduran and Guatemalan governments to request Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from the United States, which would shield immigrants from being deported back to the destruction.

Below are key stories over the last few weeks lifting up coverage of the hurricanes and the need for TPS:


From the BBC: “In pictures: Hurricanes leave Hondurans homeless and destitute

“Eta arrived in Nicaragua on 3 November as a category four hurricane and ripped through Honduras and Guatemala on its path north.

Less than two weeks later, Iota – also a category four hurricane – made landfall just 15 miles (24km) south of where Eta had hit.

The torrential rain brought by the almost back-to-back hurricanes caused deadly landslides, flash flooding and destruction in large areas of Central America.

… Before the hurricanes hit, Digno Osorto worked transporting sand to construction sites on his horse-drawn cart. On average he earned $13.35 (£10) a week, which he says was not enough to feed his family. His horse-drawn cart turned out to be a lifesaver when the floodwaters rose.

He packed his entire family on the cart and got them to safety. But all of his belongings were lost in the floods.

For many in Honduras, the impact caused by the storms will push them from poverty into extreme poverty.

… Many are developing health problems ranging from simple colds to skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems. Mosquito-borne dengue and Covid are also on the rise.

According to the health ministry in Cortés region, some people are refusing to be tested for Covid for fear of being stigmatised if they test positive and being pushed out of the shelters where they have sought refuge.”

From The Economist: “The toll of Hurricane Eta in Central America and the Caribbean

“In only one previous year, 2005, have meteorologists resorted to the Greek alphabet to name Atlantic storms. They had run through the 21 names starting with the letters of the Roman alphabet (five uncommon letters are not used). With Hurricane Eta this month the storm-namers have reached further into the Greek-letter sequence than ever before. The strongest storm of this year’s season, Eta made landfall on November 3rd in Nicaragua as a category-four hurricane, with gusts of up to 240km (150 miles) per hour. It proceeded to cause havoc across Central America and the Caribbean (see map).

… The storm has hit livelihoods, especially in farming. In Honduras, where agriculture accounts for a tenth of gdp and nearly a third of employment, coffee and banana estates have been devastated. Food may become scarce. Rebuilding will be even slower than after past disasters. Government finances are stretched by recession and by extra spending to control the pandemic. Guatemala’s budget deficit is forecast to be 6% of gdp, nearly triple what it was last year. The World Bank expects 1m more Guatemalans will fall below its poverty line of $1.90 of income a day.”

CNN’s Madeline Holcombe, Amir Vera, and Eliott C. McLaughlin reported: “Tropical Storm Iota deals devastation to Central America still recovering from Eta

“Even before Iota struck, about 3.6 million people across Central America had been affected by Eta, a storm that hovered for days over Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, with heavy rains creating flooding and landslides that wiped out entire communities.

Dozens of people in the remote Guatemalan village of San Cristobal remain missing after a landslide swept through last week, leaving mud 50 feet deep in some places.”

Natalia Kitroff at the New York Times wrote: “Hurricanes Eta and Iota Ravaged Central America. Is a Migration Wave Next?

“Already crippled by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, Central America is now confronting another catastrophe: The mass destruction caused by two ferocious hurricanes that hit in quick succession last month, pummeling the same fragile countries, twice.

The storms, two of the most powerful in a record-breaking season, demolished tens of thousands of homes, wiped out infrastructure and swallowed vast swaths of cropland.

The magnitude of the ruin is only beginning to be understood, but its repercussions are likely to spread far beyond the region for years to come. The hurricanes affected more than five million people — at least 1.5 million of them children — creating a new class of refugees with more reason than ever to migrate.

… With hundreds of thousands of people still crowded into shelters in Guatemala, the risk of coronavirus spread is high. Aid workers have found widespread disease in remote communities hammered by the twin storms, including fungal infections, gastritis and flu like sicknesses.”

Jeff Earnst at Foreign Policy wrote: “Hurricanes Eta and Iota Are the Worst Natural Disasters to Hit Central America in Years. Biden Has to Get the Response Right.

“This November, two major hurricanes again hit the region in the span of about two weeks. It was one of Central America’s worst natural disasters since Hurricane Mitch, affecting roughly 7.2 million, including hundreds of thousands who lost everything when their homes were damaged or destroyed. Yet outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump has neither expressed any kind of solidarity with the people of the region, nor mobilized the support of the international community.

… It is clear that the region needs aid once again in the wake of Hurricanes Eta and Iota. This time around, it will be up to Biden to make sure the good it does lasts for the long term.”

Reuters’ Laura Gottesdiener and Lizbeth Diaz reported: “‘We lost everything:’ Central Americans flee north after back-to-back hurricanes

“Back-to-back hurricanes Eta and Iota internally displaced more than half a million people in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, according to International Organization for Migration data. The U.N. agency said at least a third could be displaced for more than three months, hampering their ability to earn a living and rebuild their lives.

… Honduran farmer David Tronches said he had no choice but to migrate after Eta’s deluge flooded the corn and bean fields he’d sown to feed his family, including an infant daughter.

“We plant and harvest to sell and to have enough to eat,” said Tronches, 20, speaking from a makeshift migrant shelter in the northern Mexican city of Saltillo. “Without the harvest, what are we going to sell? How are we going to eat?”

Outside another shelter in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, which serves as a transit hub for migrants heading toward the Texas border, people swapped stories and videos about the storm’s catastrophic damage.

“This is where my house was,” said Marlen Almendarez, 30, showing fellow travelers a video of a mud field strewn with soggy piles of clothes, part of a refrigerator, and other remnants of the one-time neighborhood in the municipality of La Lima, southeast of San Pedro Sula, Honduras.”