After the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck Guatemala, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies immediately activated two delegates from its Disaster Response Unit. Felipe Del Cid, disaster management delegate and Maritta Vuori, emergency health delegate, traveled on Wednesday 7 November at Guatemala City to support the Guatemalan Red Cross.
The team traveled to San Marcos, the area most affected by the quake, and Felipe Del Cid said they were able to witness the devastation first hand. "What we saw when we got to San Marcos was that many of the homes were destroyed," he said. Recalling the effects of the 1976 earthquake in which 25,000 people were affected, he said: "We could see that many houses have been reinforced to withstand this type of event, so we know that there has been a significant change that reduce the risk of collapse for people who live in them. But many of the houses that were damaged were built years ago and thus were more strongly affected."
During the initial field visit, the team saw the cleanup work being undertaken by the Guatemalan government and the affected communities themselves. "It is impressive to see how the communities are the first to respond and provide assistance to their neighbors," Del Cid said.
As part of the San Marcos first response teams, volunteers moved into place and prepared a base camp to coordinate actions. "I am truly amazed at the quick response of the Guatemaland Red Cross,” Del Cid said. “The first thing that came to mind was watching the training camp of regional intervention teams we did this past August in Guatemala. I was filled with joy and pride to see many of the participants in this course have been deployed in response to this emergency.”
During the training of these teams, participants learned how to effectively coordinate an emergency response. Some of the activities included assessing damages and needs, and developing action plans. "Despite being tired after the long trip to San Marcos from Guatemala City, the volunteers worked hard to set up camp, and hardly slept - they put their training into action," Del Cid said.
Throughout the day and the weekend, relief efforts by the Guatemalan government, CONRED, the National Society and several other NGOs continued. Fortunately, in many areas, damage was less extensive than at first thought, but rescue and relief teams were remaining cautious as many communities were cut off by damaged roads or landslides.
During the next few days, response priorities by the Guatemalan Red Cross in support of the government will focus on cash vouchers for repairs to housing, water and sanitation activities and psychosocial support for those left traumatized by the quake and its aftermath.