Anna Nelson of the International Federation
As Hurricane Dean bears down on the Mexico-Belize border, Red Cross branches in the region are on maximum alert and standing by to provide assistance as needed.
The Mexican Red Cross has deployed 150 members of its National Intervention Team to the coastal city of Cancún, along with 2,000 food kits, in anticipation of the storm, which has now reached category five – the strongest type of hurricane.
Early warnings were also issued to the public via the Red Cross in different dialects on the radio, aimed at reaching out to the region’s indigenous population. Local disaster relief specialists are working with the authorities to coordinate disaster planning.
In neighbouring Belize, the Red Cross branch in Corozal reported that a 20 foot storm surge was expected to affect the villages of Sarteneja, Chunox and Copper Bank early on Tuesday.
Tents, tarps, hygiene items and food have been prepositioned in the area, according to Alberto Vasquez, a disaster management specialist with the Red Cross in northern Belize.
Government officials advised communities to evacuate and stay in shelters, where volunteers from the Belize Red Cross Society have also been deployed.
The International Federation’s Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU), located in Panama, is also closely monitoring the situation.
Hurricane Dean has already cut a path of destruction through the eastern Caribbean, killing at least seven people.
In Jamaica, thousands of evacuated residents have started returning to their homes after the hurricane’s sustained winds tore roofs off of buildings and uprooted trees on the island.
According to the Jamaica Red Cross, affected communities are in need of food support, along with tarpaulins, cooking utensils and hygiene items.
Some of the hardest-hit areas are nomally sustained by farming and fishing activities, and the Red Cross says the recovery effort will require special attention to helping people regain their livelihoods and repair their homes.
In response to Dean, the Jamaica Red Cross deployed trained managers in evacuation shelters, 200 food packages and bulk food supplies in St. Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew.
The Red Cross’ community disaster response teams were activated to help with assessments, while professionals trained in psychosocial support were also mobilized to visit people who lost their homes and belongings.
Preparedness measures, taken by the National Society to pre-position relief stocks two days before the hurricane hit, have been credited with enabling the Red Cross to respond rapidly and effectively to the disaster.
The storm also battered Haiti, where the Red Cross reports that four people died, 21 were injured and almost 900 families were affected.
Around 450 homes were destroyed and over 870 were damaged by Hurricane Dean. The Haitian Red Cross Society is holding a meeting with officials on Tuesday to discuss the damage and needs of affected communities.
The storm largely spared the Cayman Islands and did not cause as much damage as expected there. As in Martinique, Dominica and St Lucia, the Cayman Islands Red Cross had been on high alert as Dean made its way across the Caribbean in recent days.