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Hurricane Katrina and Honduras

September 30, 2005

We are all connected in this world, in some way.  Katrina was a horrendous tragedy, and like many of you, we were glued to the TV watching the news as the situation became increasingly difficult.  It is impossible for us to fathom what it must have been like, and what it is like now for those who lost so much. 
But the effects of the terrible tragedy of Hurricane Katrina are far more reaching than just New Orleans, the Gulf Coast or the United States.  Excluding the three largest cities in Honduras, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and La Ceiba, the city most populated with Hondurans in the entire world used to be New Orleans.  According to the Honduran papers, there were between 125,000-150,000 Hondurans living in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast area when Katrina struck. Many are unaccounted for. 

There have been a lot of news commentaries about the inability of the poor to evacuate from New Orleans prior to the hurricane because they didn’t have the money to travel, didn’t have a car, couldn’t afford the gas, had nowhere to go, or where frightened to leave there house and the limited possessions they did have.  According to reports in La Tribuna, a Honduran newspaper, this situation was compounded for Hondurans who often are undocumented, and therefore were frightened that if they went to shelters they would be deported.  And, some reports suggest that they were right to be worried.  Hondurans in New Orleans report that Red Cross volunteers were asking their legal status prior to receiving aid, although the Red Cross states this is decidedly not their policy and are asking for people to report any volunteers who are not providing care to all who need it. 

In the chaos since Katrina it has been difficult for many people along the Gulf Coast to find out what has happened to their loved ones.  But for those without legal documentation this problem is even worse.   There are delays in sending search parties to see if family members are still trapped in houses, a lack of information about who has survived with no secure way to find this information, and with difficulty in reuniting families who were evacuated to different shelters.  For the first few days after the hurricane, some Honduran immigrants were reported to be sneaking into shelters at night to try to get water, fearing to show themselves during the day and risking their lives in a city under curfew with rampant violence especially at night.  And now, while some Hondurans with family members in the Gulf Coast region are posting their names on internet search lists seeking information about victims, many family members of undocumented Hondurans refuse to do so, not wanting to take the chance of causing immigration problems for their loved ones.

We have heard more Mitch stories in the last week then in the previous months of our year and a half here as friends here are remembering the terrible devastation of Mitch.  Especially difficult are the stories of Hondurans who migrated to New Orleans after Hurricane Mitch because they had lost everything and had no work.  Now they must begin yet again.

In the meantime, in response to Mitch the price of gas in Honduras rose to $4.50 per gallon.  This week angry business owners and taxi drivers who couldn’t make a living with the price of gas so high occupied the streets.  We awoke last Wednesday morning to reports of tires being burned in the streets, of the capital at a virtual standstill with streets blocked, and with schools being closed.  In an agreement reached with the government, the price of gas dropped, but gas stations will not be allowed to sell gasoline on Sundays.

Another effect is expected to influence the Honduran economy for years to come.  Money sent home from the United States to Honduras is the number one income generator in Honduras, at an estimated $1.3 billion.  Factory work is a distant second at $800 million.  New Orleans area Hondurans were responsible for 20-30 percent of the money sent home, an amount expected to drop by $40 million this year. 

Our prayers go out to all those effected by Katrina, both in the United States and in other parts of the world.   

Bruce and Linda Hanson,
Seth and Kesia  

Bruce and Linda Hanson are missionaries who serve with the Evangelical and Reformed Church of Honduras assigned to the Association of Evangelical Institutions of Honduras (AIEH). He serves in the health ministries as a nurse.  Linda serves with her pastoral duties and also works as a physical therapist.

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