Nicaraguan Red Cross brought supplies to Mosquito Coast before Hurricane Felix struck

Published: 5 September 2007 0:00 CET

Alex Wynter, International Federation in Managua

Nicaraguan Red Cross (NRC) operations chief, Flavio Vanegas, arrived in the Atlantic coastal town of Puerto Cabezas with a truckload of supplies two days before Hurricane Felix made landfall early Tuesday as a “category five,” the most violent level storm.

Vanegas and a small group of NRC workers did the gruelling 10-hour drive from the capital Managua, on the other side of the country, as part of planned preparations for the hurricane season. Puerto Cabezas is normally accessed by air due to dense jungle in the eastern part of the country.

Speaking from the shattered port late Tuesday after Hurricane Felix passed through the city, Vanegas said the Red Cross was collaborating with the authorities to try to make an accurate assessment of the damage.

“Most houses here have at least lost their roofs,” Vanegas said “and fifteen per cent of the homes have been completely destroyed.”

According to the Red Cross, at least three people have died, including a child and nearly 5,000 families have been affected.

The mayor of Puerto Cabezas appealed for food aid to be sent to the region for evacuees camping out in storm shelters. Schools were still closed today as many were still in use as evacuation shelters. Wells in some locations are contaminated with sea water.

The NRC is now collecting food, bottled water and clothing after appealing for help to the Nicaraguan public and opening two special bank accounts. Red Cross rescuers and volunteers are also busy with relief, first aid, comfort to the survivors and coordination with authorities.

Latest reports say more than 12,000 people were successfully evacuated before Hurricane Felix delivered a virtually direct hit on Puerto Cabezas. The local Red Cross said some others declined to leave their homes.

Awareness of the hurricane danger on Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast and the vital importance of disaster preparedness has heightened in recent years since it became the focus of pioneer climate-change projects backed by the Netherlands Red Cross.

There is considerable nervousness in Central America and the Caribbean about the effect climate change will have on the frequency and severity of hurricanes, especially after the record-breaking 2005 season, which included Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Felix, which later tracked west into Honduras, will also revive memories of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Honduras and Nicaragua were the nations most affected by Mitch – the worst disaster in modern Latin American history.

The swampy Atlantic regions of Honduras and Nicaragua, which together form the Miskito Coast, are acutely vulnerable to hurricanes. Ramon Arnesto Sosa, the head of Nicaragua’s main disaster agency, Monday told reporters in Managua that some 50,000 people were particularly at risk because they lived beside rivers, on hillsides or small islands.

After Hurricane Dean two weeks ago, Felix is the second category-five storm in the region in less than a month, and the US National Hurricane Centre said it was the first time two category fives have made landfall in a single season since hurricane record-keeping began in 1886. Felix, which weakened to category one as it moved inland, has still triggered major alerts in all the countries in its path, including in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, which was flattened by flash floods after
Hurricane Mitch nearly a decade ago.

The International Federation has released 200,000 Swiss francs ($166,000 USD/ euro122,000) in emergency funds to assist Central America’s National Societies meet immediate needs and is also preparing a preliminary emergency appeal.