Cristina Estrada and Eva Calvo in Central America
Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala after the first hurricane of the season smashed into Central America late on 19 May.
At least two people died when Hurricane Adrian, carrying winds of 120 km an hour, made landfall on the Pacific coast, bringing heavy rains that caused severe flooding and landslides. Adrian lost strength as it came ashore and has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, heading towards Cuba and the Bahamas.
The Red Cross emergency response system in the Americas was activated. Regional and National Intervention Teams and all National Red Cross Societies in the affected countries are coordinating closely with their National Emergency Committees in order to better respond to the disaster.
As these countries are regularly affected by the annual hurricane season, contingency plans were in place well before the hurricane hit, and the Red Cross throughout the region has been on high alert and well-prepared despite the fact that the hurricane season usually does not begin until June.
Relief stocks were pre-positioned, along with human resources, in the form of disaster management experts and trained volunteers, who have been helping to evacuate families living in high-risk areas.
In El Salvador, thousands of people were evacuated and the Red Cross mobilised lifeguard brigades and teams rained in first aid, search and rescue and psychosocial support throughout the country.
“Red Cross teams are already in the disaster areas assessing the situation, gathering information to allow us to meet the most urgent needs of the affected population,” says Amilcar Tejada, head of operations with the Salvadorian Red Cross.
The El Salvador and Nicaraguan Red Cross Societies, which deployed 1,100 and 467 volunteers respectively, have been providing information to the population on how to be better prepared for the hurricane. Disaster preparedness was crucial during last year’s hurricane season, and it will play a key role in saving lives again in 2005.
“Although this hurricane hasn’t been very destructive, the implementation of a set of well-organized emergency procedures ensured rapid and orderly evacuations from high-risk areas, reducing the deadly impact,” says Guillermo Garcia, the International Federation’s water and sanitation delegate, who was deployed in El Salvador.
The International Federation released 150,000 Swiss francs (US$122,000) from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund to support the immediate response.
The delegations of the American, Canadian, Spanish and Swiss Red Cross Societies are supporting the response activities of the Salvadorian Red Cross, according to the National Emergency Plan. In Honduras, the Canadian, Italian, Netherlands and Spanish Red Cross are supporting the Honduras Red Cross response.
Hurricane Adrian brought back painful memories of Hurricane Mitch, which caused devastation and thousands of deaths in Central America in 1998. Some areas in these countries are still recovering from Mitch and the Red Cross continues to work with the communities to be better prepared to respond to disaster.