A Personal Reflection on Mitch

by Robin Degracia | 11/13/98 6:00am

Billions of dollars in damages. Over 80 percent of the infrastructure destroyed. Ninety-four bridges out. Thousands of people missing. More than a million left homeless. Over 11,000 dead. Over 11,000. Are these casualties of a civil war? Of never-ending bombing? No. They are victims of a very recent natural disaster.

Hurricane Mitch hit the coast of Honduras in the last week of October. It traveled inland and stayed in the center of Honduras dumping its rains for a week. The heavy winds and rain caused flooding along the rivers and mud slides in the mountains. Then Mitch moved on, traveling the breadth of Central America. When the storm clouds cleared, the extent of the destruction was visible. Entire towns had been washed away. The popular mayor of Tegucigalpa, the capital, was killed while surveying the damage. And he was hardly the only one. Each day the number has grown higher.

I found out about the hurricane in Honduras from my mother two weeks ago. I was not too interested. After all, the hurricane had hit the coast. My family lives in the mountains. I thought it was sad, but it was seven in the morning and I didn't want to hear about it. A week later I found out my family had no food.

The newspapers show pictures of ruined shacks, desperate refugees and hundreds of starving faces. My family didn't live in some shack on the side of a mountain, and they never looked like starving refugees. They live in the center of Tegucigalpa, in a house with a gate and a driveway. I remember playing blind man's bluff on the porch with my cousins when we were all children. Now my cousins' house is gone, and my family, like the faces in that picture, has no food or water.

So much destruction has befallen the nations of Central America in the past few years, but for me this was much different. It was no longer some far-away place, some distant disaster. This was my mother's home country and what I consider my second home. Somewhere in these past two weeks, Hurricane Mitch victims stopped being anonymous faces on the television screen. It became my family without food, my cousin with no home, my family friends missing and presumed dead.

My mother has been lucky enough to get in touch with most of her relatives. Others have not been so lucky. They tell stories of massive destruction, flooding, mile-long lines at gas stations and people pounding on the doors of empty grocery stores. There is little to eat, little clean water to drink and a widespread shortage of medicine for quickly spreading diseases. Half a tablet of Tylenol is sometimes all that can be spared to treat a case of malaria.

The country is in ruin, and dignitaries are pleading internationally for help. People are frustrated. With roads cut off or washed out, the only way things are coming in is by air, and what has come in is not enough. In the remote areas, people haven't eaten for days. Children are orphaned or dying of cholera and fever in makeshift hospitals. There is little the doctors can do without medical supplies, and little anyone else can do without drinking water, food, blankets and clothing.

I tell you this story as a plea for help to the Dartmouth community. A group of students have come together and formed CARE, the Central American Relief Effort. People in Central America are in desperate need of food, water, clothing and medicine. We can all come together and help our neighbors to the south. Across campus, you will see boxes for donations. Throw in some old clothing or canned food. We will also be accepting monetary donations. Remember, this isn't just some far-away storm. Hurricane Mitch has affected many people, even here in New Hampshire. Over a million in Honduras alone have lost loved ones or property. Imagine the ones outside the country. I implore you to help. Remember, this could be your family that is starving, your cousin who is homeless, your friends who are missing. They are mine.