November 10, 1998
JAMES MATES, ITN: It is turning into one of the biggest international aid efforts ever attempted, for the tons of supplies arriving here from Britain, Europe, the U.S., are still just a fraction of what's needed. And moving them beyond the capital in a country where the infrastructure is totally destroyed is proving the biggest task of all. Everywhere we traveled in Northern Honduras roads were washed away, not a bridge was left standing.
Even where the road is intact, it's often left impassable with the debris of Hurricane Mitch, the same debris that has smashed homes, wrecked crops, killed so many thousands of people. If ever you doubted the destructive, primeval power of nature, than have a look at this. This was once a pineapple plantation. You can still see ruined fruit lying everywhere. But what happened here is the vegetation for miles upstream was smashed by the floodwaters and swept down and dumped here. This debris I'm standing on is at least six feet deep.
It stretches for hundreds of yards over there. Nobody knows - perhaps nobody ever will know just how many people were caught up in this and are still buried underneath it. Repair work has begun, but in the short-term it can't happen anything like quickly enough for a country where one in six are now homeless. Only the helicopters can move easily around here, and they are still few and far between. The most remote regions have yet to receive any help. The island of Guanaja, once British and still English-speaking, was hit first and hit hardest. But apart from an early emergency visit from the Royal Navy, they have had no help at all. These stilts once supported houses. The fishing boats have been wrecked or swept out to sea. Here, truly are a people who have nothing.
JAMES MATES: How are you all going to live like this?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We need help. Some nations got to come in and - you know -
JAMES MATES: Every village we passed had suffered the same fate. It's almost impossible to visualize now what was once here, but until a few days ago, this was thriving little town filled with fishermen and tourists. Now not a single building - not a single tree is still standing. This was the island's best hotel and the source of a lot of its tourist income. To understand the strength of this storm look at the trees. Not a leaf, not a branch was spared.
JUSTIN TAFT, Hotel Manager: And this whole back was green. I mean, you couldn't see any of the ground. It was just - you know, it was your tropical paradise. JAMES MATES: While the people here wait for help, they have lost much of their ability to help themselves. We flew over the banana plantations of northern Honduras, one of the back bone's of the economy. Chiquita, the world's biggest banana producer, has declared this crop a 100 percent write-off. Their rail tracks, their trains, their packing stations are all destroyed. They've been forced to lay off their entire work force, seven and a half thousand people. Jason Green managed this plantation where the roots of the banana plants are already rotting and will soon die. His fear is that with a global glut of bananas, there may be neither the money nor the will to replant here.
JASON GREEN, Chiquita Banana Company: The problem for me will be in the mid- and the long-term, whether or not the company can afford to rejuvenate these farms. If we do decide to do that, then I think it's basically very good news for the people here.
JAMES MATES: And if you don't?
JASON GREEN: If we don't, it could be a major - a major strain on a lot of people, not to mention the country as a whole.
JAMES MATES: For now, the workers here are being generously looked after, but if in the long-term their jobs, their livelihoods have been swept away by the floodwaters, it will not be long before they join the tented cities of the homeless and the desperate that now dot this country. The people here have heard help is on the way; they need all the help they can get.