Nicaragua this year was pounded mercilessly by a string of hurricanes and tropical storms that dumped unusually heavy rain on Nicaragua over 52 consecutive days in September and October.
Hurricane Felix ripped across the indigenous northeast corner of the country Sept. 4 as a Category 5 storm, devouring everything in its path. More than 300 people – mostly Miskito Indians – were killed and more than 198,000 were left homeless. The total damage toll is estimated at $850 million, according to the government’s final damage assessment.
The hurricane also caused tremendous ecological destruction, wiping out 10,000 hectares of coastal mangroves and stripping whole swaths of primary forest, including damage to 15% of the Bosawas Reserve, the largest virgin forest in Central America.
More than 1.3 million hectares of forest was damaged by the storm, including 477,000 hectares of forest that was completely flattened, with century-old trees strewn about like a fallen box of matches.
The level of destruction effectively accelerated Nicaragua’s deforestation by more than five years.
“We lost everything, everything; not a single tree was left standing,” said a shellshocked Nicanor Polanco, whose Miskito cooperative lost its entire forest of 12,000 hectares. Polanco, who was in the forest with a dozen other men when the storm struck, said he and the others had to run to the edge of the forest and tie themselves to thick tree stumps to survive the storm that passed directly overhead.
“When the storm came, it was horrible, horrible, horrible,” Polanco remembered.
“The rain was so hard; it looked like a cloud in the forest. Then the wind blew so strong, we couldn’t open our eyes. It was sad; we could hear the trees falling all around us.”
In the weeks that followed, a string of tropical storms ravaged the northwestern agricultural-producing region of the country, forcing President Daniel Ortega to declare a nationwide state of disaster Oct. 19.
Government reports revealed that 155,000 manzanas of crops were lost, as well as 45,000 heads of livestock. More than 3,000 kilometers of roadway and nine bridges were damaged or destroyed, in addition to 22,000 homes across the country.
Ortega, whose government received millionsof dollars in international aid from the United States, Venezuela and European nations, compared this year’s natural disasters to 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the country and claimed some 3,000 lives.