Hurricane Mitch, a Category 5 hurricane, whose origin is believed to be traced to a tropical wave off the coast of Africa, stalled over El Salvador from October 29 – November 3, 1998. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the eastern Caribbean, in which more than 20,000 people perished.
- 180 mph sustained winds
- 13th tropical storm of the year
- 9th hurricane of the season – 4th most intense Atlantic hurricane on record
- 75 inches of rain
- 11,000 people killed
- +$5,000,000,000 in damages
It wasn’t the hurricane itself that was responsible for Salvador’s loss but the freakish event not widely reported. This involved the water tanks above the village of Gualache which became dislodged as a result of mudslides from the saturated earth then poured like gigantic buckets downhill swelling the tiny Serpent River into a wall of water. Everything and everyone in its path was destroyed.
Doesn’t it seem as though the people all over the world who are the most marginalized happen to live in the most vulnerable locations? Look at coastal areas of India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and certainly in Central America. Hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, famine, and disease abound. This is a constant threat in these areas year after year after year.
How is my title even possible? How does anyone survive these events? What brings a person from despair to hope? In Salvador’s case he seemed to hit rock bottom before he found it. But find it he did.
It has been said that “The eyes are the window to one’s soul.” When we first met Salvador and heard him recount his experiences during Hurricane Mitch, he was already over the anger and deep sadness. However, he rarely made eye contact with us when it came to recounting the most painful parts of his story. I would describe his eyes as downcast, melancholy, sorrowful, and searching. He said he tried not to think about it unless someone such as us asked specifically about it.
Now meeting him after more time has lapsed, Salvador has begun a new life and re-directed his energies into another focus; now his eyes are entirely different. They sparkle and indeed even have a twinkle to them. I notice dimples I hadn’t noticed before. His eyes burst in pride over his family, his church, his new lease on life. His eyes spring with hope! The innocent bright brown eyes of his fourth child, a beautiful little girl, look up to him mirroring his pride.
Slowly over time we have watched Salvador build this church one course of bricks at a time. The church now has an altar. He proudly leads services here. A hand-written blackboard lists the names of those who will assist him.
Salvador Gonzalez is once again among the living and leading others in his community.