Hondurans Laud Seabees for Road-Clearing Feat
By Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Rankin, USN
American Forces Press Service
LA GUACAMAYA, Honduras, Dec. 9, 1998 Residents here have begun to rebuild in the past few weeks, and Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7 recently helped celebrate a milestone in this rural village's return to normal.
Honduran Vice President Billy Handal and the sailors were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorating the Seabees' having reopened the some 20 miles of road between the northwestern towns of El Progreso and Santa Rita. La Guacamayans again have normal access to the outside world.
Before Hurricane Mitch hit in early November, the river that runs past La Guacamaya was only about 5 feet wide. It turned into a wall of water about 450 feet wide during the storm and swept away part of the town.
Storm damage is still evident throughout the village. Brown mud stains the small, storm-blown wooden and concrete houses and, in some cases, partially buried them. Other houses still stand with gaping holes where walls collapsed against the force of the river's mud and rushing water.
"We've been shoveling mud from our homes for weeks," said resident Carlos Hercules, one of several villagers who traveled house-to-house to help neighbors dig away the knee-deep mud.
"They've been using shovels and any other tool available to remove the mud from their houses," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Johnny D. Bailey, a heavy equipment operator. "We've worked eight days alongside the village's residents to clear about four feet of mud and return their streets and driveways to a passable state."
Thanks to the Seabees, the river also has been tamed and should not threaten the village's 6,000 residents again. They returned the narrow river to its original twisting state -- but with a few changes.
"Once we hauled dirt from the main road and leveled it, we literally reshaped the sides of the river's banks to keep the water from overflowing again," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Hopster.
"We are most grateful for your engineering expertise in building levees which re-routed the river that caused hundreds to lose their homes," Handal said to the Seabees before a crowd of local residents and U.S. and Honduran reporters. "The Navy Seabees are truly remarkable. The entire country of Honduras is truly grateful for your contributions."
[Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Rankin is assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7 and is a member of the U.S. military relief effort in Honduras.]