Mitch devastated Honduras and its Central American neighbors, U.S. citizens began calling the Honduran Consulate in Washington, D.C., asking how to adopt children orphaned by the storm.
Beyond the confines of the airport, life becomes even more chaotic. Roads are choked with automobiles and trucks struggling to navigate through a city which lost 10 of its 12 bridges to the storm. The air is rank with exhaust and from the clouds of dried mud kicked up by the traffic. Many pedestrians wear masks across their faces.
Mounds of mud left behind by the rampaging river lie hardening in the midday sun. Mud is everywhere.
Several feet of it fill city streets, the first and even second floors of buildings, automobiles and anything else that may have fallen victim to the hurricane’s epic floodwaters. Workers hack and chip at the mud with shovels and pickaxes, and an endless procession of shopowners scurry between their gutted businesses and the river in a desperate attempt to wash and salvage their goods.
A muddy valley runs past the Central Prison, where some of the incarcerated swam to freedom as Mitch’s floodwaters rose and propelled them over the walls. Hundreds of homes, streets, and businesses were washed away, and those that remained standing found themselves anchored beneath several feet of mud and debris.
In some places, the stench is overpowering. The smell from intermingled garbage, rotting food, rancid floodwater, animal and — very possibly — human corpses fills the air.
Yet still people work near the water, clean goods in it, even bathe in it. The potential for disease cannot be understated.
Homeowners squat along the muddy, contaminated waters, rinsing clothing, dishes, photographs — anything that can be salvaged. Residents point to stretches where the water continues to run fast and deep and recall the homes that once stood there. Or they gesture toward the hills overlooking the city and point out the myriad locations where Mitch’s torrential rains sent entire hillsides cascading down over roads and homes alike.
Many of the homeless have been relocated to shelters in the hills surrounding the river.
Their parents sit in a kind of mute despair, wondering how they will survive, how they will provide for their children, how they will rebuild. .