Chance meeting 14 years on
By Andrew Winning
14 years ago this November I travelled to Nicaragua to cover one of the deadliest hurricanes to hit central America. Hurricane Mitch, the strongest October storm on record, ground to a halt just off the coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras and brought almost two weeks of torrential rain down on the whole region. Rivers and streams became raging torrents as flash floods and mudslides left a trail of devastation and claimed over 9,000 lives.
With roads and infrastructure washed away the only way to reach the affected communities was by helicopter. Mexico, the United States and other countries lent theirs to help Nicaragua cope with the task of ferrying aid to populations cut off by the flooding and collecting the sick and injured for treatment in the capital.
On November 5, 1998 I flew with a U.S. Blackhawk to the flood ravaged community of Wiwili in the north east of Nicaragua near the border with Honduras. We touched down on a muddy sports field and within two minutes we had loaded a young girl with a fractured femur and an old man with a heart condition and we were airborne again on our way back to Managua. Volunteer Nicaraguan medics who endured the toughest of conditions to look after those affected by the storm had treated the two and called for them to be flown to Managua.
Back to the present in London. Two weeks ago I went around to see some Cuban friends for dinner. They wanted me to meet Nicaraguan doctor Jaime Matus who was in London to take over the research fellowship from my friend. As we became acquainted, Jaime told me he had been in Wiwili as a volunteer medic. Prompted by my wife, we began to look through the archive images I took on my very short visit to the community and then Jaime cried out, “hey, that’s me!”
14 years later our paths had crossed again. Although the location and the circumstances could not be more different, it took us no time to recall our experiences of Hurricane Mitch and the deep impressions it left on both our lives.