Mitch: Catastrophe in Honduras, October 1998

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The night of October 29, 1998 was a particularly horrible night for the citizens of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Bridges, hospitals, factories, and prisons were demolished.1 During a period of thirty-six hours Hurricane Mitch poured into the city 25 inches of rain, causing soil saturation with water, bringing about catastrophic landslides. The rain also brought flooding to neighborhoods adjacent to creeks and rivers that customarily have small amounts of water flowing. This flooding ravaged roads and houses, and cut off electric power to most parts of the city.2

Destroyed house in Tegucigalpa | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

People had trouble seeking shelter from the hurricane because navigation around the city was limited. Streets were flooded and bridges were down throughout the city. Hospitals were rapidly filled, but they did not have the necessary conditions to attend to people’s needs because water sources were contaminated, and in certain hospitals, the buildings themselves were affected directly by the flooding as well.3

Five days before Mitch’s arrival, Tegucigalpa was a completely different city. Its citizens could not imagine how their homes and streets, and hospitals and parks, would be affected by the hurricane that was forming on October 24, 1998. Two thousand miles southwest of Jamaica, the tropical storm Mitch became Hurricane Mitch. This 124-mile-diameter beast traveled throughout the Caribbean, passing by the Panamanian coast and then to the Honduran coast where it halted to unleash chaos for day after day. On October 26 it reached its maximum strength, reaching wind speeds of 177 mph, while it hovered off the Honduran coast. On October 29, it hit the Honduran mainland as a Category 4 hurricane, with massive amounts of rain in a short period of time. In two days, Honduras received between twenty-five and thirty times the expected amount of rain for the month of October. As a consequence, Tegucigalpa began to flood because rivers accumulated more water than they could carry, and they began to overflow. Throughout this hilly city, the soil was also over-saturated with water, so landslides occurred frequently.2

The casualties of this terrible catastrophe were 5,657 people, and it left 8,058 missing people and 12,275 injured. Additionally about 250,000 persons were left homeless. The damages to infrastructure reached $3.8 billion. During the following two years, all of the international financial aid that the country received was solely destined to reconstructing the 70% of the national highway system that was affected, including the 92 bridges that were either damaged or completely destroyed. Almost one out of every four classrooms of the public schools were destroyed, and for the ones that remained, it was hard to find teachers, because a great number of teachers were themselves reconstructing their lives by the side of their families. Water conducts were affected and failed to provide clean water to most Tegucigalpan citizens’ homes and to public and private hospitals too.3

Destroyed Bridge | Courtesy of United States Geological Survey

Many citizens claimed that the government was not supporting them in the reconstruction of the country, because they did not receive direct help in the form of work or money directly from the government. Instead, the government destined the financial aid they were receiving to reconstruct the most important roads to enable transportation. Once transportation became available, the plan turned to boosting the economy through agricultural production.6

This catastrophic event considerably affected Honduras, and specially Tegucigalpa, because of the great amount of damage it caused to the infrastructure of the country, and because of all the human lives taken and affected by it.

  1. Jeff Boyer, “Mitch in Honduras,” NACLA Report on the Americas XXXIII,  no. 2 (September/October 1999): 36.
  2. William Smith, “Hurricane Mitch and Honduras: An illustration of population vulnerability,” International Journal of Health System and Disaster Management 1, no. 1 (2013): 54.
  3. William Smith, ” Hurricane Mitch and Honduras: An illustration of population vulnerability,” International Journal of Health System and Disaster Management 1, no. 1 (2013): 54.
  4. William Smith, “Hurricane Mitch and Honduras: An illustration of population vulnerability,” International Journal of Health System and Disaster Management 1, no. 1 (2013): 54.
  5. William Smith, ” Hurricane Mitch and Honduras: An illustration of population vulnerability,” International Journal of Health System and Disaster Management 1, no. 1 (2013): 54.
  6. Jeff Boyer, “Mitch in Honduras,” NACLA Report on the Americas XXXIII,  no. 2 (September/October 1999): 37.

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This Post Has 44 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I was born in 1998. I had never heard about this hurricane. I have alot of friends from st marys who are from Honduras and have friends and family over there. It was sad to know how much destruction was done to this beautiful land. It was sad to hear so many homes, and lives were lost. This earth quake was a life changing catastrophe. I am sure today they still feel some connection and loss, repercussions of this event.

  2. Avatar

    I cannot imagine what it must felt like being in this disastrous hurricane for 36 hours then having to go outside and see your community gone. The infrastructures were not built to withhold such a powerful hurricane and for that, most of the building had been destroyed. I hope that if a hurricane does happen to hit again, they are more than ready with the type of infrastructure they rebuilt their buildings with.

  3. Avatar

    Great article! The Hurricane Mitch definitely created great destruction in Honduras. The fact that not many were prepared for the amount of strength the hurricane was coming with, made the matters worse. Sadly, so many lives and homes were lost during this disaster. It took a long time for the Honduran people to recover from the catastrophe and to move on with their lives.

  4. Avatar

    Honduras is the country that my dad is from and when hurricane Harvey happened, Mitch was the talk of the house. Tegucigalpa changed drastically after the disaster and many families had to flee, as you mentioned. Fortunately, Tegucigalpa is has regained its tourist attracting site once more.

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