The Aftershocks Continue with No End in Sight

The most powerful aftershock to hit Honduras yet rattled the population at 11:13 p.m. local time on Sunday, June 7.  This tremor measured 5.7 on the Richter scale and its epicenter was only 20 miles northwest of La Ceiba in the Caribbean Sea between La Ceiba, home to Fundación Adelante’s headquarters, and the Bay Island of Utila.

This is the eleventh aftershock officially recorded by the United States Honduras relief mapGeological Survey[1] since a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale and an epicenter six miles below the Caribbean Sea and 75 miles NNE of La Ceiba, hit Honduras on May 28.  The aftershock epicenters have been scattered, seven off the Honduran shore in the Caribbean Sea and four southeast of La Ceiba on the mainland[2]. The most recent tremor sent La Ceiba residents running out of their homes just before midnight and many people reported hardly sleeping the rest of the night.  The local news reported three homes destroyed in La Ceiba and one in the nearby community of El Porvenir.

Table 1 – A listing of the date, time, magnitude and location for all recent recorded earthquakes in Honduras.

Number

Date

Local time

Magnitude on the Richter Scale

Location in relation to La Ceiba, Honduras

1

5/28/09

2:24 a.m.

7.3

125 km (75 mi) NNE (offshore)

2

5/28/09

4:06 a.m.

4.8

95 km (60 mi) NW (offshore)

3

5/28/09

8:45 p.m.

4.5

100 km (60 mi) WNW (offshore)

4

5/28/09

11:17 p.m.

4.1

80 km (50 mi) NNE (offshore)

5

5/29/09

6:51 a.m.

4.6

55 km (35 mi) SE (on land)

6

5/30/09

12:33 a.m.

4.5

115 km (70 mi) NW (offshore)

7

6/02/09

12:43 a.m.

5.0

45 km (30 mi) SE (on land)

8

6/04/09

6:41 p.m.

4.7

50 km (30 mi) SE (on land)

9

6/04/09

7:12 p.m.

4.3

45 km (25 mi) SE (on land)

10

6/05/09

10:37 p.m.

4.7

110 km (65 mi) WNW (offshore)

11

6/06/09

5:53 a.m.

4.5

85 km (50 mi) NNW (offshore)

12

6/07/09

11:13 p.m.

5.7

30 km (20 mi) NW (offshore)

Residents here are not unfamiliar with natural disasters. Just a little over ten years ago, Hurricane Mitch devastated the country’s infrastructure and left half its population homeless.  People here are well accustomed to the threat of hurricanes as they are generally preceded by watches and warnings with computer models carefully predicting the most likely path. However, the earthquake threat is entirely unfamiliar – it lurks in the distance like a fer-de-lance hidden in the grass ready to strike an unsuspecting passer-by with its deadly bite.  The first quake took the population completely by surprise and the subsequent aftershocks have left people traumatized – spending sleepless nights listening for rumbling and shooting up in bed at the slightest noise or tremor.   Almost two weeks have passed since the initial earthquake and people are starting to wonder if this saga will ever end.

Unfortunately, according to Wilfred Strauch, a seismologist from Germany’s Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources in Honduras to aid authorities, the country remains at risk[3].  He claims, however, that the location of the epicenter in the ocean saved Honduras because “if it had been on land with that intensity (7.3) the consequences would have been devastating.”  He further explains that the type of construction and underlying bedrock contribute to the level of devastation in different parts of the country.  For example, in the bay island of Roatán most homes are made of wood and the destruction was minor even though it was the closest landmass to the epicenter of the original earthquake.  Cement structures are much more vulnerable to breaking, as are homes built on fragile floodplain soils like those in the Sula valley, near San Pedro Sula, where the destruction was most severe.

According to residents in the hardest-hit areas near Omoa, Puerto Cortes and El Progreso, neither the national nor the municipal governments have shown an interest in assisting affected communities[4].  At least 350 homes were destroyed in the area surrounding Puerto Cortes alone and hundreds of people are living without potable water – many young children and senior citizens are suffering from gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin illnesses as a result.  The majority of those affected make up the poorest segment of the population. Bernarda Bueso, 73 years old, lost her home in the earthquake and expressed, “I don’t understand why the president, Mel Zelaya, hasn’t even sent us water or food to help us survive the sad reality that we are living4.”

At least one Adelante assembly, from the community of El Juncal in the Aguan Valley, has been affected[5].  Their neighborhood was evacuated to the nearby town of Olanchito after the government issued a red alert for their area near the epicenters of the four land-based aftershocks.   Several clients – such as Maura Cárcamo who lost one of the walls of her home and Elsa Martinez, Lilian Chirinos, Norma Ponce, Deysi Flores, and Silvia Chirinos whose homes have severely cracked walls – have only recently begun to return home and assess the damages.  With their community in turmoil, no food to put on their tables nor government aid in sight, these clients are understandably more concerned with repairing their homes and rebuilding their lives than paying off their delinquent loans.

This situation highlights the difficult reality of working with the rural poor in one of the most disadvantaged countries in the western hemisphere.  Adelante’s mission is to improve the standard of living of this highly vulnerable population, but the best way of accomplishing this goal is not always as clear as one might hope.  At times like these, while we cannot forgive our clients’ debts, we can and do refinance their loans in order to allow them a reasonable amount of time to get their lives back in order before paying them back.


[1] United States Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/. Last updated 6/8/09.

[2] Please see Table 1 and corresponding map. Map source: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/americas/honduras.jpg

[3] Honduras está en situación de riesgo (Honduras is at risk), by Pablo C. Zapata. Diario La Prensa 6/6/09.

[4] Victimas del terremoto olvidadas por Gobierno (Victims of earthquake forgotten by government),by Yolany Izaguirre. Diario La Prensa 6/4/09.

[5] According to Rossel Martinez, Fundacion Adelante Olanchito branch office supervisor. 6/8/09.

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