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Hurricane Eta Hits Central America, Threatens Cuba, Florida

Health care providers in Honduras warn of difficult days ahead.



Damage from Hurricane Eta in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, as seen on November 4, 2020. Health providers in the country, and in neighboring Honduras, have requested medical aid. (Photo by Inti OCON / AFP)

Hurricane Eta hit Nicaragua and Honduras as a Category 4 storm Tuesday, with maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. At least one person is reported to have been killed.

The latest report from the National Hurricane Center notes that winds have dropped to 45 miles per hour, but that Eta’s rainfall through Sunday — which is forecast to total up to 20 inches in much of the two Central American nations and up to 40 inches in isolated regions — will “lead to catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with landslides in areas of higher terrain of Central America.”

NHC’s current forecast has the storm spinning back out towards the Caribbean Sea and making landfall in Cuba on Sunday morning before arriving in southern Florida on Monday morning.

As the storm approached, Direct Relief coordinated with the Pan American Health Organization to prepare a Hurricane Prep Pack and a Covid-19 ICU kit for deployment, which are both prepositioned in Panama at PAHO’s strategic stockpile.

Even as damage assessments have only started in Central America, Direct Relief is in communication with a dozen partners in the region, which treat the most vulnerable and medically underserved populations in their countries, to learn more about what they’re seeing and what their anticipated needs will be.

“Right now in the midst of Hurricane Eta wreaking havoc at the national level, we still cannot estimate the damage that this will cause to the most vulnerable population. With this we know that there will be many imaginable needs,” said Amanda Restrepo, a spokesperson for the Ruth Paz Foundation, a nonprofit which operates a hospital in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, that focuses on critical burn cases and patient transfers to the U.S., as well as the treatment of birth defects. Ruth Paz also supports a small network of health care providers with supplies and offers primary care services out of their San Pedro Sula location.

“In previous years, we experienced similar situations and it is unfortunate to be in the midst of so much suffering for children and the elderly affected,” Restrepo said.

While urban areas face stark challenges amidst the pandemic and hurricane, Direct Relief’s Erick Molina, who focuses on program operations in Latin America, said he is even more perturbed about the situation in the rural and remote areas of Honduras, especially in the eastern part of the country.

“Visiting Honduras, I was able to see the challenges there regarding the country’s healthcare system, especially in rural areas. During Covid-19, several isolated regions had to fend for themselves, and that’s without any natural disaster hitting. I’m especially concerned about people living close to river banks, many of whom live in huts, and next to mountains, because of potential landslides,” Molina said, echoing responses from Honduran health care providers he had been in touch with in recent days.

“The situation in the country worsens even more because with the Covid-19 pandemic is not controlled and the collapsed public hospitals are not giving a response to the population when they seek medical attention,” said Restrepo.

At Hospital Loma de Luz, a nonprofit evangelical Christian missionary hospital located in the remote, coastal municipality of Balfate in northern Honduras, operations are ongoing thanks to a generator, as electricity in the community is out. Emergency, chronic, and Covid-19 patients are all being seen, according to Alisa Geers, a registered nurse who works at Loma de Luz.

Continuing to see patients has not been easy, as trees are blocking roads to the hospital and many staff live in a hard-hit area.

“About one-third of the hospital staff live in a community on the other side of Rio Estaban, which has flooded and stranded the area as no one has been able to pass through for over 24 hours,” Geers said.

The hospital is also helping in other ways, and has housing available for some patients and staff, should their homes be damaged. They also have a supply of clean water for the community.

“Even in storms if the pipes get clogged there can be a water shortage,” Geers said.

Immediate requests from Direct Relief’s partner health care facilities in Honduras included over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, antibiotics, anti-parasite medicine, masks, alcohol gel, and hygiene items.  An infusion of the requested medical aid is being prepared at Direct Relief’s warehouse and expected to depart this week for impacted areas.

“The whole situation in the country is going to get complicated, we will be in a state of economic crisis for a long time,” Restrepo said.

Since 2010, Direct Relief has sent more than $446 million worth of medicines and medical supplies to health care providers in Nicaragua and Honduras to help support their care of vulnerable populations.

Additional reporting contributed by Cydney Justman.

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