Hurricane Iota creates an unprecedented situation for rambutan importers

Hurricanes create unprecedented situation for Central American rambutan growers

A rambutan importer was on Monday anticipating an unprecedented situation for growers in Central America, which was preparing for the imminent arrival of Hurricane Iota even as it recovered from another storm that struck just days before.

The storm hit Nicaragua earlier this week with sustained winds of 155 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. It came ashore just 15 miles from where Hurricane Eta made landfall on Nov. 3, causing extensive flooding and damage. 

“We have had some rains and some storms, but nothing like this,” Andres Ocampo, CEO of HLB Specialties, told FreshFruitPortal.com on Monday afternoon prior to the storm’s landfall. The company is a leading importer of tropical fruits from Latin America and works with rambutans out of Honduras, another country in Iota’s trajectory.

“Since we have been dealing with rambutan, we have never had two storms back to back affecting us this badly so we're pretty much in uncharted territory," he said.

According to Ocampo, the main impact of Hurricane Eta two weeks ago was a logistical one. The storm closed ports and airports, which caused challenges in products coming to the U.S., he said.

From Hurricane Iota, however, he expected even more difficulties from heavy rains, with the soil and rivers already saturated with rainwater from the first storm.

Ocampo predicted that even if the rain proved not to be as heavy as that seen with Eta, there would still likely be flooding due to the already oversaturated soil.

“On the one hand it may affect infrastructure in terms of roads being blocked, flooded or even damaged," he said.

"Bridges [could be affected] which will interrupt the flow immediately of the products from the fields into the ports and the airport. But also, if the rains are too heavy, there may be landslides and things like that."

Ocampo noted there was not much that could be done in preparation beyond getting ahead of the storm by harvesting and shipping out as much fruit as possible before its arrival.

He also stated that there would likely be a rise in rambutan prices and stock shortages, although to what extent was uncertain.

“We are in the last four or five weeks of the season so it may bring a premature end to the season depending on how much is lost, but we will know more probably by Friday or Saturday once this storm has passed and we can make a better assessment of the final damage,” he said