Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in late October 1998, leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.
Hurricane Mitch: October 1998
Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, 1998 and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America and reformed in the Bay of Campeche before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4-5, 1998.
Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The hurricane also took a major toll on Nicaragua. In one area alone, Posoltega, more than 2,000 people perished in a huge mudslide. Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama were also impacted by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than in Honduras and Nicaragua.
How Many Died in Hurricane Mitch?
In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of Hurricane Mitch, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the eastern Caribbean, in which more than 20,000 people perished. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the World Meteorological Organization retired Mitch from its list of Atlantic Ocean hurricane names, due to the storm’s devastating impact.
Has Honduras Recovered From Hurricane Mitch?
"We have 75 percent ... of our major infrastructure either destroyed, damaged or torn apart. Our agriculture is in shambles. All of our major crops, our export products ... gone," Honduran President Carlos Flores told CNN in 1998. "This is something that happens once in a century. But this is the only country that we have, so we have to pick it up, and we will." Then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter toured neighboring Nicaragua in November 1998 and estimated it would take 15 years to fully recover.
Immediately following the disaster, $9 billion in relief funds were pledged to help rebuild after the storm, though in 2005, the Center on International Cooperation at New York University said most of that money never materialized, and half of it was offered as loans to already debt-strapped countries. On the first anniversary of Hurricane Mitch in 1999, more than 2,000 displaced residents in Honduras were still in temporary shelters.
“The country was left like a window broken in a thousand pieces. Small and big bridges were destroyed, landslides obstructed roads, and even highways with strong pavement sunk into rivers,” writes Aníbal Serrano of the Fundación en Acción Comunitaria de Honduras, Sulaco, Yoro.
In October of 2008—ten years after Hurricane Mitch—heavy rains caused severe flooding in Honduras, and 20,000 people were displaced. Today, the work of rebuilding communities, infrastructure and the economy continues.
The Worst Atlantic Hurricanes
1. Great Hurricane of 1780: Over 20,000 fatalities.
2. Hurricane Mitch, 1998: Over 11,000 fatalities
3. Hurricane Fifi, 1974: 8,000-10,000 fatalities
4. Galveston Hurricane, 1900: 6,000-12,000 fatalities
5. Hurricane Flora, 1963: Over 3,500 fatalities
Mitch termed Central America's disaster of the century. CNN.
Honduras: Reflections on Hurricane Mitch and Its Aftermath. Inter-American Foundation.
For Honduras and Iran, World’s Aid Evaporated. The New York Times.
The Tempest At Galveston: 'We Knew There Was A Storm Coming, But We Had No Idea'. NPR.
Mitch Recovery Slow and Painful. BBC