Page last updated at 00:05 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Honduras struggles 10 years after Mitch

Tegucigalpa buildings destroyed 10 years ago
Half of the country's housing was damaged or destroyed by Mitch

It is 10 years since Honduras was ripped apart by Hurricane Mitch. The president at the time said the storm had set the country back by half a century. The BBC's Claire Marshall visits some of the worst-hit areas to see how people are faring now.

Marco Burgos stands on a bridge crossing the Choluteca river which divides the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

He points upriver at another bridge. "You see that? That's a Bailey bridge. It was put up 10 years ago. It was supposed to be temporary but it's still being used. It's fallen down three times because people have stolen the screws."

It's not the only complaint Mr Burgos has.

If the state suffered another Mitch, more people would definitely die
Hector Espinal, Unicef

As national commissioner of the Honduran emergency response centre, he is the government minister in charge of dealing with natural disasters.

He is fiercely critical of his own government's response to Hurricane Mitch.

Catastrophic flooding set off by the storm left an estimated 10,000 people dead; more than half of homes were either destroyed or damaged; 160 bridges were swept away and more than 300km (186 miles) of road wrecked.


"The national congress has never taken this seriously," he says. "Without doubt, we aren't sufficiently prepared."

There still isn't a national emergency reaction plan, and it was only this year that a formal disaster emergency fund was set up but so far it contains only $250,000 (162,000).

Hurricane Mitch so weakened the country that smaller-scale disasters still have a much greater proportionate effect.

According to Mr Burgos last year, $1m was spent on dealing with the impact of flooding and mudslides.

But he also points out that much of the infrastructure being rebuilt with public money is still being constructed along out-of-date, risky criteria, which could not stand up to Mitch.

Buildings in Tegucigalpa next to the Choluteca river
Residents still face risks from flooded rivers

Uptown from the Bailey bridge, a gleaming new shopping centre sits on top of a hill.

This used to be the site of the Trebol refugee camp, where 3,000 Mitch survivors lived in tents.

The smooth sturdy walls of the vast buildings could be seen as a sign of progress.

However, some in the city resent the fact that it was built in just seven months, whereas some of the survivors had been forced to live there under canvas for three years.

Just below the shopping centre, houses cling to the muddy slopes, hanging precariously above the river.

These are just some of the estimated four million Hondurans still living in vulnerable places.

Most of those are at risk from flooding from swollen rivers. The rest face dangers from landslides.

"If the state suffered another Mitch, more people would definitely die," Hector Espinal of Unicef said.

"The country hasn't learnt its lessons. The state institutions still don't have the capability."

Lost population

One of the towns most badly affected by Hurricane Mitch was Morolica.

It used to be one of the southern region's most beautiful towns, but not one house was left standing.

Mayor Ramon Espinal
Ramon Espinal had to walk for 24 hours to raise the alarm

With all roads cut and telephone lines down, the mayor at the time, Ramon Espinal, had to walk for 24 hours without stopping to raise the alarm.

He walks among the old ruins, now so overgrown that donkeys graze near some rubble which used to be the Town Hall.

Vultures perch on the wrecked walls of the church.

Mayor Espinal has to wipe away a tear as he remembers. "Nearly 180 years of history. It went in one night. It was like a nightmare... It's something I will never forget."

A new town has been built 5km (3 miles) away. But the empty streets of New Morolica are testimony to a further effect of Mitch.

Some 7% of the population fled the countryside either for the cities or to go abroad.

Jorge Rodriguez, 19, sits on the edge of New Morolica's bare concrete town square, still unfinished.

"It's been a profound change for me personally. In the old Morolica there were more people.

"Now I feel like I'm here on my own.. I don't want to live here anymore."

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