Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Pollution hampers Honduras clean up

In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch, Matthew Jones visited Honduras and reports on the work of engineers involved in the clear up.

CLEAN-UP EFFORTS after Hurricane Mitch in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa were being hampered by a 'lake' of heavily polluted water which has backed up in the city.

Hurricane Mitch saw winds of over 300km/h lash Central America early in November. In Tegucigalpa the floods that followed washed thousands of tonnes of mud, rock and trees down the River Choluteca into the centre of the city. Debris formed a natural dam where the river narrows in the Comayaguela district, leaving the water level 15m higher than before the floods.

Early plans to use explosives to clear the debris were dropped amid fears that the sudden rush of water would cause renewed flooding downstream. Engineers opted to remove material slowly from the top of the dam using army excavators, as most of the region's major construction companies had transferred plant and equipment outside the city to repair roads and bridges.

Speaking some three weeks after the flooding occurred, Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Housing project manager George Reyes said only superficial clean-up work was possible because of the shortage of resources. He added: 'We don't know at the moment what kind of mess we are going to find when we evacuate the water.'

Aid workers feared that high concentrations of heavy metals from factories destroyed in the floods, plus bacteria from broken sewers and corpses would cause a major health hazard.

However, although draining the water slowly increases the risk of disease in Tegucigalpa, Reyes claimed it might avert a major pollution incident downstream where aid agencies have set up emergency water supplies drawing from the river.

'A controlled release of the water will help to aerate it and allow the sun to break down some of the bacteria,' he explained.

Health problems in the city were made worse by the lack of clean drinking water. The main distribution pipe was cut during the floods and the United Nations estimated that only 22% of the population was receiving water. Rebuilding sewers, roads and homes is expected to cost $366M.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.