UPDATE: Guatemala Hurricane Response

Written by
FH staff writer
Published on
November 27, 2020 at 3:00:00 PM PST November 27, 2020 at 3:00:00 PM PSTth, November 27, 2020 at 3:00:00 PM PST
First Hurricane Eta, then Iota, washed out entire roads across Guatemala. The main route through San Juan Chamelco, a community near Coban east of Cotzal, is utterly collapsed.

Partner communities in Guatemala continue to battle the chaos following two consecutive hurricanes, Eta and Iota. After weeks of destructive wind, rain, and floods, the communities in Cotzal and the community of Villa Hortensia II are only just starting to plan to return to rebuild. The partner communities of Acul, Rio Azul, and Xonca, on the other hand, have only seen minor damages; many families were on alert at the outset of Iota, and took precautions or relocated. 

Sponsor children and their families have been affected by the hurricanes—some displaced, or having lost property or their livelihoods. For instance, due to its mountainous terrain and remote location, Villa Hortensia was hit the hardest; most families were evacuated when Iota struck. 

FH staff are in regular contact with all community leaders, paying close attention to sponsor children and their families, offering relief in the form of clean water, food, and hygiene items to those in dire need while preparing to provide additional support as needs unfold. Staying in touch and responding remains day-to-day.

Food aid was delivered to families in Villa Hortensia II, one of the hardest hit communities.

A host of concerns have arisen out of the situation. Roads and bridges are destroyed, travel is difficult, and delivery of relief supplies requires creative thinking. As families evacuated their homes to stay in crowded shelters or the town hall, the potential spread of COVID-19 worried many and following safety precautions was a further complication. For many families their livelihoods, gardens, and farms have been swept away. Malnutrition has been a problem in these communities for decades, and food security was already a major concern—the hurricanes have made things worse.

Landslides across Guatemala's mountainous terrain have blocked off roads, complicating food aid deliveries. This photo is from a road near Vichivala, in Cotzal. 

FH’s first steps were ensuring that families in these communities had food to survive the coming weeks. After Hurricane Eta, FH staff traveled by road as far as they could to pass off food aid to the communities. But as rains continued and more roads washed away, FH resolved to deliver 48 relief packs to these communities via helicopter - particularly to Villa Hortensia II. The helicopter was forced to land in a nearby community, after which community leaders organized a truck to pick up the much-need supplies. Families of sponsor children, like the rest of the community, are grateful for the life-saving food aid that has arrived.

FH Guatemala loading the helicopter with aid bound for Villa Hortensia II.

FH staff are in regular contact with community leaders and are monitoring the situation closely. Because of the prolonged nature of these disasters, the impacts are still being assessed and the extent of the damage is still being discovered. In FH Canada partner communities alone, over 700 individuals are severely affected, having lost homes or livelihoods. 

Plans for long term recovery are in place. Communities will need more than food aid, they will eventually need to rebuild their gardens, farms, homes, and stables. FH is committed to walking with these communities despite the setbacks, and providing the support needed to get them back on track towards graduation. 

Relief Kits being delivered to families experiencing the greatest need in Vichivala, Cotzal.

November 10, 2023 Update

In the first few days of November, Hurricane Eta struck Guatemala. Eta is the second-most intense November hurricane on record and unleashed torrential rains and catastrophic flooding across Central America. In Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica, high winds and heavy rain damaged homes and forced thousands to take cover in shelters.

Fatalities in Guatemala rose sharply on Thursday November 6 as a result of severe mudslides in the mountains. As of Saturday Nov 8, the death toll is estimated between 125 - 150 with the greatest losses in the central mountainous region of Alta Verapaz. 

President Alejandro Giammattei declared a state of emergency in nearly half of the country’s 22 departments and swiftly mobilized the military and emergency services to engage in rescue efforts. Rescue workers have braved treacherous roads buried in mud and rubble to reach affected remote communities. The unrelenting downpours released by Storm Eta toppled trees, engorged swift-moving rivers, and ripped down parts of a mountainside above the village of Queja in Alta Verapaz, burying dozens of people in their homes. Many are still missing. Rescuers continue to dig through the mud and rubble, searching for survivors. 

Thankfully, about 3,000 people did manage to flee Quejá on foot during the storm to take shelter in the neighbouring village of Santa Elena.

Food for the Hungry (FH) Guatemala partner communities have been affected by the force of Hurricane Eta. Out of the three regions where FH Guatemala works, Alta Verapaz was hit the hardest. The FH Programs Coordinator for Alta Verapaz was forced to evacuate his home and other FH staff have lost their homes to flooding. Most of those affected are currently without internet access, making communication difficult.

Many families who fled the hurricane are now in make-shift shelters such as schools, churches, and town halls. In addition to seeing their homes and belongings destroyed, families have also lost gardens and livestock―their primary sources of income and food. FH is grateful, however, to report no known loss of life in any community where FH Canada partners―thankfully, all sponsor children are accounted for.

FH Guatemala is working with mayors and community leaders to coordinate relief efforts. Survivors desperately need food and basic necessities. Supported by FH’s Relief and Humanitarian Affairs (RHA), FH Guatemala staff are sourcing and distributing food hampers, bottled drinking water, hygiene kits, and basic PPE to enable families to protect themselves from the spread of COVID-19 in the close quarters of the improvised shelters. 

FH continues to search for ways to reach those communities cut off by collapsed bridges, flooding, and mudslides as they are now only accessible by boat, plane, or helicopter. In the meantime, FH has transferred funds to the currently inaccessible regions of Ixil and Alta Verapaz to enable staff on the ground to purchase and distribute life-saving goods to vulnerable families and support the FH staff responding to the crisis. 

To help families struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta, you can donate to the FH's emergency fund.

Emergency Response