Alex Wynter in Krukira, Nicaragua
This fragile Miskito village at the end of a now barely-passable 25-kilometre gravel road that starts in Puerto Cabezas is almost the exact point – as near as it can be plotted – where the eye of Hurricane Felix came ashore before first light last Tuesday.
The terror of that night for the people of Krukira is difficult to imagine.
“If the peak winds had lasted another hour or so, I really think people would have died of fright,” says Pastor Romero Rivera, in whose Moravian church, almost the only concrete structure in the village apart from the school, many villagers took refuge.
Mercifully, in Krukira, no one died and there were only five injuries among a total population of about 500 families. (The population of Miskito villages is traditionally enumerated in families rather than individuals.)
“We never experienced anything like this in our lives,” adds Pastor Rivera, who now faces the task of equipping his church with a new roof. But its relatively stout walls, at least, held up against Felix’s category-5 winds.
The village itself, built almost entirely from clapboard, looks like it has been shelled, and by all accounts Felix must have sounded more like bombardment than wind.
Nearly 300 houses have been destroyed and all the trees have been splintered or felled.
The deeply religious Miskito villagers are unlikely to blame anyone but God for the hurricane, but “radio was how we got news of its approach,” says Aricio Lewis, 30, who heads the village’s first-aid committee.
“I was walking around listening to the news on Radio Caribe and La Porteñísima and trying to warn people,” says Lewis, a familiar face at the disaster-preparedness workshops which have been held in the village as part of the Netherlands Red Cross climate-change project.
“Eventually the decision was taken to ring the church bell,” he adds, the time-honoured way of sounding the alarm in Miskito settlements, and people abandoned their homes.
Some – no one’s quite sure how many – took a risk and stayed put. But Lewis says he believes there would have been deaths in Krukira if the workshops had not prepared villagers for the possibility of extreme and unprecedented weather.
Krukira’s bell was last sounded for Hurricane Beta in 2005, but that storm was a trifle in comparison to Felix.
As Nicaragua took stock at the end of the week, it became clear a majority of the deaths from Hurricane Felix may have been among communities even more vulnerable than the isolated coastal villages: the subsistence fishermen and lobster divers of the Miskito Keys – tiny specks of land around 60 kilometres out into the Atlantic.
Survivors and dead bodies were being recovered from the sea and from beaches in Honduras and Nicaragua, and the overall figures for both dead and missing are expected to increase.
Up and down the Mosquito Coast, prayers are being said for those missing at sea and for the Nicaraguan villages – 11 at the most recent count – from which nothing at all has been heard since Felix passed.
“A team of 25 volunteers from the Costa Rican Red Cross has arrived to support their Nicaraguan colleagues, including paramedics, psychologists and specialists in aquatic and mountain rescue,” said Manuel Rodriguez, International Federation regional information officer. “The group will help in the effort to find and assist people affected by Hurricane Felix.”
The International Federation’s Panama-based disaster response unit (PADRU) is sending blankets, hygiene kits, kitchen sets and tarpaulins for 3,000 of the most seriously affected families in the Nicaraguan Atlantic region.
The Federation has launched an emergency appeal for nearly one million Swiss francs ($825,000 USD/euro600,000) to support Central American National Societies coping with the aftermath of Felix. The funds will provide 23,000 people with tents, mosquito nets, blankets, jerrycans, clothing, bedding and plastic sheeting.