The water from the late November storms had not yet begun to subside in the rural village of Campur when Michelle’s husband, Byron, decided to leave for the United States.
Nestled in a lush valley in the San Pedro Carcha municipality in northern Guatemala nearly 170 miles (270 kilometers) from Guatemala City, Camper’s streets were flooded by heavy rains brought by Hurricane Eta. At its peak, the water reached 12 meters in some places, submerging houses, possessions, animals and crops, and leaving only the church steeple above the waterline.
Michelle and Byron – who did not want their real names used due to concerns it could affect Byron’s immigration status in the US – and their three children were among the nearly 600 families in Campur that lost everything.
“No one thought the water would recede; we did not have hope,” the 27-year-old mother told Al Jazeera as she tended to the family’s store, about her husband’s departure in November, shortly after the town flooded.
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But when the waters pulled back in late January, they revealed even more devastation – crops, homes and livelihoods were decimated – and the Guatemalan government’s promise to provide money for reconstruction and aid to families affected by the storms never materialized.
“The people were confident that the Guatemalan government would give support,” Erick Cu, a resident of Campur who works for the municipality of San Pedro Carcha, told Al Jazeera. “But we are entering an economic crisis, and the people have begun to migrate.”
While there are no exact figures on how many Campur residents have left for the US so far this year, Cu said he knows of at least 20 people who have gone since November. Sebastian Chub, a community leader, estimates between 50 and 60 people have left, and Al Jazeera spoke to a family who said seven members between the ages of 14 and 17 had migrated in the last few weeks.
The effects of the storms on Campur go beyond flooding. The local economy, which relies on coffee and cardamom’s production and sale, was also decimated. Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, the storms exacerbated longstanding problems fuelling emigration, such as unemployment, poverty and food insecurity.
“The effects of the pandemic and the hurricanes have worsened the socioeconomic conditions,” Ursula Roldan, an immigration expert at Guatemala’s Rafael Landivar University, told Al Jazeera.
“There is also an expectation that with the new Biden administration that migrants will manage to more easily enter the United States, that they will have an opportunity to go in family units.” Here