Hard, Hard Rain
Roatan’s Weakness of Infrastructure is Exposed in a Massive Rain

November 11th, 2011
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private]

Roatan Firemen work on removing a tree that fell on a house during rains at the Colonia Los Maestros

Roatan Firemen work on removing a tree that fell on a house during rains at the Colonia Los Maestros

October brought massive rains that caused floods, chaos and disruption to much of mainland Honduras. For several days Choluteca in the south was virtually cut off from the rest of the country.

On Roatan there was less damaged, but numerous areas suffered flooding, landslides and soil erosion. The rains on October 14 and 15 caused pools of standing water throughout the island. Several stores at Megaplaza Mall in Los Fuertes flooded, as did Cerveceria Hondurena distribution center in Dixon Cove, and Hybour commercial areas in French Harbour.

After a brief respite of sun mid-month, the weather worsened again. Tropical depression Rina brought rain on Bay Islands from October 19, eventually becoming a slow moving Category II Hurricane. The rains didn’t stop for a week.

Roatan’s steep slopes are riddled with gullies–narrow creeks that fill with water. When it rains hard the gullies swell with water and overflow causing flooding. In the last several years many gullies have become obstructed with garbage or simply forgotten and covered up during construction of buildings and roads.

Another ongoing, growing danger is the presence of numerous, almost vertical slopes dug out in soft soil to make room for housing. Professor Lydia Watler’s house in Colonia Los Maestros suffered from such a landslide when an almost vertical hill came down in the back of her house. Los Maestros, a colonia established in the early 1990s, is a relatively old development on the island. Still, during the previous rain season, it was also affected by a landslide.

Watler was preparing to file an insurance claim, taking pictures of the damages to the roof and walls of the house that had to be temporarily abandoned. “I hope we can get some money back,” said Watler.

On October 19, Roatan Municipality held a meeting and asked for suggestions of how to handle the current emergency. “We’re not even in a hurricane. This was an-hour-and-a-half rain and we are already in trouble,” said Mayor Julio Galindo. The situation has worsened where unsupervised and unregulated house construction has taken place-usually in illegal colonias and among the poor. Local authorities confess to being helpless in ensuring that no authorized or unsafe habitations are built. “What can we do? We can’t tear them down,” said Mayor Galindo.

Stopping construction, handing out fines and tearing down illegal and unsafe buildings is what is done in the developed world. Roatan, however, like the rest of Honduras, is hostage to the lawlessness of development by the newly arrived poor.

Few government officials feel secure enough to go against the organized poor who can stage demonstrations and deprive them of votes. [/private]

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