Back in late October of 1998, a tropical wave formed off the coast of Africa and meandered across the Atlantic Ocean. Ultimately it became Hurricane Mitch. The most popular forecast tracks had the storm moving off in a generally northwest direction. But it was late in the hurricane season and Mitch was a slow-moving storm without strong upper-level steering currents.
What really happened caught a lot of people by surprise. Instead of continuing on a northwest track, the indecisive Mitch got to a certain point and then made a left, southerly turn. It parked itself over Guanaja for three horrible days before slowly sinking into mainland Honduras. Miraculously there were only a few deaths on Guanaja, although the island was, for all intents and purposes, decimated. In Honduras, upwards of 7,000 people died - over 11,000 in Central America total, but no one really knows for sure because so many bodies were buried in mass graves and it was hard to keep official track.
One of the tragedies associated with Guanaja and Hurricane Mitch was the sinking of the Windjammer Barefoot Cruises ship, the S/V Fantome and the loss of all 31 crewmembers onboard. Remember, the thinking was that the hurricane would continue to track off to the northwest, not stall and turn southward. In an effort to stay on the safer south side, the captain was cruising the 282 foot, four-mast sailing ship back and forth beween Roatan and Guanaja in what he thought was the lee of the storm. In reality, he unknowingly drove straight into it. Author Jim Carrier produced the excellent “The Ship and the Storm,” an incredibly well-written and gripping book about Hurricane Mitch. I mean, literally, you will not be able to put it down.
For Honduras, Hurricane Mitch was a huge disaster from which the country has never really fully recovered.
And now, not quite ten years later there’s Felix. As of this morning, Monday September 3rd, the forecast tracks show it aiming straight for the north coast of Honduras. It might make landfall Tuesday morning at the Honduras/Nicaragua border, a relatively unpopulated area. This would be bad enough. But it also might just skirt the northern coast of Honduras. This would put the Bay Islands directly in its path.
If you click on that picture above, it will open up larger and you'll be able to see the nine different forecast tracks for Hurricane Felix that are issued by the various agencies who study this stuff. It is noteworthy that all of the forecasts agree that the storm will strike the coastline along a sixty-mile "window," right at that corner of Central America, near the border of Honduras and Nicaragua. If the storm follows the more southerly courses, it would put it over land sooner and therfore it would hopefully weaken. However, if the storm chooses the more northerly courses, the Bay Islands will be directly in its path.
Whichever way this storm goes, it is not going to be good. I still have a lot of friends down there. I know that some of them are going to be negatively impacted by Felix, no matter which actual path the storm takes. It’s a helpless feeling to watch this unfold in slow-motion.
I got an email from Danette Ebanks, the woman who is the accountant for the company I was working for when I lived in Guanaja. Danette and her big family are from the town of Mangrove Bight, which was totally destroyed – literally wiped out by Hurricane Mitch. Her email was ominous. The people of Guanaja are taking this storm very seriously. Saying that this would probably be the last time she would have internet access, she signed off with a line that tugs at my heart, “Pray for us and hope for the best."
You know I will, Danette. I’ll even pray for Matthew and Angel down in Juticalpa. And if you folks need a helicopter pilot after the storm passes, I'm ready to come back and help.