Manuel Rodríguez and Eva M. Calvo
With 26 tropical storms and 14 hurricanes, the 2005 hurricane season has been rated one of the most active and destructive in history.
Forecasts made at the beginning of the year by experts at the United States National Hurricane Center (NOAA) predicted the formation of at least 12 cyclone systems, five of these reaching categories 3 to 5 in Saffir-Simpson scale. By mid-2005, the forecasts were upwardly revised, predicting the formation of up to 21 hurricanes.
The day before the hurricane season’s official end on 30 November saw the formation of the last named tropical storm of the year, the record-breaking Epsilon. Twenty-six tropical storms had formed since the season began in June. The naming system established for 2005 ran out with Hurricane Wilma and had to be extended, which is why the last five storms of the year affecting Central America and the Caribbean were named after letters of the Greek alphabet.
Destruction and devastation
Hurricane Katrina devastated the US Gulf Coast in August, leaving the highest number of victims since 1928 in the country. At least 1,200 people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands more lost everything they owned and are still struggling to recover from the aftermath. During the first weeks, over 100,000 Red Cross volunteers and staff were mobilised to respond to the emergency, and more than 900 temporary shelters were set up to help the thousands of people whose homes and livelihoods had been destroyed by the violent winds. Katrina was followed by Rita and Wilma, which also made landfall in the United States.
In Central America, the most destructive hurricane was Stan, cyclone number 18 of the season. Although it reached only category 1, it left a trail of death and destruction in its wake. The storm caused flooding and mudslides in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua. The entire Central American isthmus suffered the effects of the hurricane in one way or another.
The Red Cross disaster response system in the Americas is working to meet the needs of some 10,250 affected families. In Guatemala alone, the Red Cross is providing assistance to 6,400 people, primarily through the distribution of food, water and other emergency supplies, psychosocial support, water and sanitation programmes, and the restoration of family links.
“The scale of the disaster is so great that emergency relief will be required for several months to come,” explains Nelson Castaño, coordinator of the International Federation’s Pan-American Disaster Response Unit based in Panama. “People are in urgent need of shelter, food, health services and sanitation.”
The Federation has drawn on its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to deal with the effects of this year’s hurricane season. Almost CHF 100,000 has been made available to help National Red Cross Societies implement their disaster response plans and meet the basic needs of more than 170,000 people. Four international appeals have also been launched to raise over CHF 10 million. More than 200 Red Cross experts from around the world supported the efforts of National Societies in affected countries to provide emergency relief.
In one four-month period, the Federation sent 12 planes, five lorries and three ships loaded with humanitarian aid from Panama to the affected countries, including Jamaica, Granada, Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. This comprised 340 tonnes of emergency supplies such as plastic sheeting, blankets, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, mosquito nets, first-aid kits and water purifiers. Other shipments of humanitarian aid arrived in the region thanks to the efforts of sister Red Cross Societies.
“The International Federation is continuing this work and supporting National Societies that are still implementing relief operations,” concludes Nelson Castaño.
“We must now focus on replenishing our reserves to maintain the capacity of the system to respond to future disasters.”
The hurricane season may be over but the National Red Cross Societies of the countries affected by it continue to work in the community to help people who have lost everything to rebuild their lives. One of the most crucial and fundamental tasks for the Red Cross is to help improve the disaster preparedness capacity of communities and National Societies, so that they can respond more effectively and efficiently to future disasters and save more lives.
Weather experts predict that the 2006 hurricane season will not be as destructive as in 2005.