On This Day in UB History: September 18 (Hurricane Fifi)

Hurricane Fifi struck and devastated northern Honduras on September 18, 1974. Hurricanes usually broke up in the mountains to the east of La Ceiba. But Fifi settled 18 miles off the coast and lashed the mainland with torrential rain and 130-mile-per-hour winds. Over 600,000 people were left homeless, and in La Ceiba alone, 125 people were killed. Many UB churches, including Bethel church in La Ceiba, opened themselves to refugees.

Most hurricane damage comes from flooding. On each side of La Ceiba was a river. Normally, those rivers carried water falling on the mountains into the Caribbean Sea. But Fifi’s winds pushed inland, causing the rivers to back up. Everything flooded.

Missionary Gary Brooks (right) recalled seeing the carnage the next morning. “Whole barrios in La Ceiba were just gone, swept out to sea. Gone.” One place along the beach, populated by little shacks, was totally wiped away. Cars lay upside down against buildings. Gary found the body of a woman who had fled her home, and died in her overturned car just 50 yards from the church. One man lashed himself to a tree and refused to come down. The storm uprooted the tree and carried it 500 yards away, where the man’s body was recovered, still tethered to the tree.

Living at the mission house next to the Bethel church, the Brooks family got by comparatively well. But, said Gary, “We were this little island, a high spot surrounded by water. Three blocks away, people were dying, flooded out. And ten blocks the other way, ten or twelve kids were killed when the river came through the school in which they took shelter. Water all around us, but nothing touched us except the wind.”

Eight feet of water flooded the Bible Institute. Six inches of mud covered everything. Classes were cancelled for the rest of the year, as students shoveled mud and cleaned. Gary’s efforts to contact outlying villages proved futile. But in the days and week ahead, reports trickled in of damage to churches, homes, and fields (and therefore livelihoods).

The Missions department sent $1000 right away and dispatched Harold Wust to Honduras. The UBs worked with other relief groups to help the homeless. It was a hectic time, the needs overwhelming.

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