The US Department of Homeland Security has not yet released November data on migrants caught crossing from Mexico, though experts say factors including immediate disruption to mobility during the storms may have temporarily slowed the overall rise in numbers.
Honduran farmer David Tronches said he had no choice but to migrate after Eta’s deluge flooded the corn and bean fields he’d sown to feed his family, including an infant daughter.
“We plant and harvest to sell and to have enough to eat,” said Tronches, 20, speaking from a makeshift migrant shelter in the northern Mexican city of Saltillo. “Without the harvest, what are we going to sell? How are we going to eat?”
Outside another shelter in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, which serves as a transit hub for migrants heading toward the Texas border, people swapped stories and videos about the storm’s catastrophic damage.
“This is where my house was,” said Marlen Almendarez, 30, showing fellow travelers a video of a mud field strewn with soggy piles of clothes, part of a refrigerator, and other remnants of the one-time neighborhood in the municipality of La Lima, southeast of San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
“My bed where I slept with my son was thrown all the way over there, to the Oxxo!” she said, gesturing at a convenience store over 50 meters away.
Riccy Martinez, 25, who said she also lost her home in the floods, shook her head.
“You’ll see how many people are going to start coming because they lost their homes,” she said.
‘NO CHOICE EXCEPT TO FLEE’
Julio Almendarez, a resident of San Pedro Sula suburb Chamelecon in Honduras, said he was forced to flee to a storm shelter after a river burst its banks during Iota. While inside the shelter, he said, he and hundreds of other displaced residents held a meeting and decided to form a caravan to leave Honduras on December 10 with the aim of reaching the United States.
“I decided to leave because we lost everything,” he said, adding that he’s trying to collect enough money to pay the buses fares required for parts of the journey.
Other migrants bypassed the storm shelters, where aid workers fear the overcrowded conditions could lead to a new spike in coronavirus cases, and hit the road immediately.
Kevin Ventura, 25, from the central Honduran city of Intibuca, said he’d already begun considering migrating after receiving death threats from a gang that sought to recruit him to sell drugs. When Eta’s winds brought a tree crashing into his family’s house, forcing his mother and grandmother into a storm shelter, he worried it would be too easy for gang members to find him there. Instead, he quickly hopped a bus headed towards the Guatemalan border.
Giovanni Bassau, the regional representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said there has been gang activity, including violence and extortion, inside the storm shelters in cities where such semi-organized crime has long held sway, and that he expects the hurricanes to worsen the instability that allows such groups to flourish.
“If you have a community that is run, to some degree, by the gangs, all you’re doing when you add shelters and flooding is making things worse,” Bassau said.
“It leaves people with really no choice except to flee,” he said.
Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey, Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; additional reporting from Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Tamara Corro in Veracruz, Mexico; editing by Grant McCool
A woman stands outside her home damaged due to heavy rains caused by Hurricane Eta, in Pimienta, Honduras November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera