Costs and Devastation from Hurricane Eta

Eta’s movement toward Central America on November 3, 2020. (Courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.)
Charlotte Ehmann
December 17, 2020

Although just one of this year’s multiple tropical storms, Hurricane Eta recently caused much destruction. The Category 4 hurricane began near the end of October and led to four landfalls in Florida on November 7 and November 10. Hurricane watches extended from the southern end of Tampa Bay to the Withlacoochee River and included the regions of Clearwater and Tampa. Storm warnings extended from Naples to the Big Bend region, spanning Fort Myers, Venice, and Cape Coral. The National Hurricane System recorded winds of up to 75 miles per hour in the area. The last year in which a Gulf of Mexico storm reached hurricane strength at this point in hurricane season was 1985.

One group impacted by the hurricane was the Vidal family. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Victoria Vidal and her husband Fernando tried to protect their home in Tampa, but by 9:30 PM on November 11, the couple and their three children had to huddle together on top of a mattress in the last unflooded room in their home. Outside the house, the water level rose to the windowsill. Luckily, Ms. Vidal’s father called for emergency help on their behalf; the Vidals became part of the group of at least thirty-three people across Pinellas County evacuated due to Eta. To escape their home, Ms. Vidal strapped her daughter to her front and her son to her back to tread through waist-high currents. They lost their house and all of their belongings, and it is estimated Florida will suffer $1 billion in damages due to Eta.

Hurricane Eta also severely impacted Central America. The hurricane made landfall in Nicaragua on November 4 and continued into Honduras (24 deaths), Guatemala (53), Mexico (27), Panama (19), Nicaragua (2), Costa Rica (2), and El Salvador (1). Less than two weeks after Eta’s landfall, storm Theta hit the region. Though Theta degraded into a subdued, tropical depression by November 15, Hurricane Iota simultaneously emerged and became the second hurricane in recorded history to reach Category 5 strength in November. It made landfall in Nicaragua on November 17 with winds of up to 155 miles per hour. The devastation caused by these adverse weather patterns is so great that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is donating $22 million to help those affected. While Nicaragua and Guatemala are reeling from the storm season’s destruction, an estimated 2.5 million people from Panama and Belize have also been impacted. The IFRC states that Honduras was most impacted: 1.7 million people, about 20% of the population, were severely affected. According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Hurricane Eta will cost Honduras an estimated $5 billion; costs of Hurricane Iota are still unknown.

2020 has been the most active Atlantic hurricane season with thirty named storms, breaking the storm record from 2005. The devastation in Florida and Central America is vast; communities grieve for lost loved ones, the destruction of crucial crops, and the loss of homes, schools, and other buildings. People can help those affected by donating to the Red Cross, Save The Children, and other philanthropic organizations. 

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