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The Deluge

Aug
28
2005

Most Americans are fortunate to have never seen a Class 5 hurricane or its effects. I have.
In fall 1998, I deployed with my US Army Engineer battalion to Nicaragua to conduct relief and reconstruction missions as part of Operation Fuerte Apoyo in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. That tremendous storm packed enough ferocity to smash Central America, drench the Yucatan, hit Florida, and and persist as an identifiable weather system north of the British Isles. Tens of thousands, mostly in Central America, were left dead in its wake.
When we arrived in Managua, there was trash and debris strewn in the streets of the capital city. Some houses had visible debris lines marking the height of the water in the neighborhood. In the countryside, vegetation was broken and scattered across wide fields. Trees with snapped trunks and limbs; grasses lain flat by mighty winds; scrub plants uprooted and thrown far afield at crazy angles: all greeted us as we progressed inland to our area of operation. Huge bridges lay on their sides, broken cleanly at their concrete bases. Shells of houses, sometimes single walls, recalled the ruins of antiquity.
We saw tremendous gorges carved where tiny streams once flowed. One day I traveled with my platoon sergeant down a deep, wide, and steep dry riverbed, and we noted the houses perched precariously on the banks’ edge. Finally we came across a well emerging from the riverbed towering fifteen feet in the air above us; and we knew that this was not an old, dry riverbed at all. Beside us, a tiny trickle of streamwater burbled toward the Pacific, its damage long since done. That well was inaccessible; others were simply erased from existence. I spoke with some children playing in a sandbank at a worksite where my platoon was building a river-crossing; they showed me a featureless shallow depression where el pozo used to be. They also spoke of how all the known land mines were now moved about. This made it unsafe to play.
The most affecting sight of catastrophe came when a Nicaraguan soldier took me to see a bleak landscape of hardened mud. He related how there were once towns on this deathly vista. The hurricane hit and blew the buildings down. Then the rains flooded the fields and carved rivers through the streets. Then the long-slumbering volcanic crater above, filled with water, burst open, and the pitiful survivors were themselves slaughtered by the hundreds as a mountain’s worth of hot mud, water and stone entombed them all. It was the Casita lahar.
I’ve seen what a Class 5 can do. That’s why I pray for New Orleans now.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 11:36 PM | Permalink

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