Girding for the worst in Guatemala
Battered by the pandemic and a once-in- a-lifetime economic recession, beleaguered Guatemala was scrambling to prepare for its second hurricane in less than two weeks.
The nation is still staggered by the first, Hurricane Eta,which left hundreds of towns underwater and displaced close to 200,000. Entire villages have lost access to potable water, food and medicine, aid groups said.
“If Iota hits with the strength they’re forecasting, it will be chaos,” said Francisco Muss, a retired Guatemalan army general who is coordinating rescue efforts. “I don’t think we have begun to comprehend the impact of this crisis, in terms of the humanitarian disaster.”
Mr. Muss said the government had not even been able to gain entry to about 100 villages hit hard by Eta, and noted that about a quarter of those are in critical conditions “because of a lack of food, because of hunger, thirst, and illness.”
Now, as Hurricane Iota bears down, teams of rescuers are rushing to reach towns left stranded by Hurricane Eta.
“We are racing the storm in order to get supplies to these people, because now they can’t leave, they have nowhere to go,” said Sofía Letona, director of Antigua to the Rescue, a local aid group that has distributed food and medicine to hundreds of people displaced by Eta. “They left their houses in the middle of the night, abandoned everything, got soaked, carried their children. And now another one is coming,”
Ms. Letona said her group had set up makeshift clinics in remote areas where people sought cover from Eta, and found widespread illness among those who had fled their homes, including gastritis, fungal infections and infected mosquito bites. Some said they had headaches, a cough and flu-like symptoms — all possible signs of the coronavirus.