Preparations underway to face category five Hurricane Felix

Published: 3 September 2007 0:00 CET

Winnie Romeril of the International Federation

As Hurricane Felix tracks towards the Central American coastline, Red Cross Societies along the storm’s path are encouraging residents to find safe shelter and not risk driving through flooded areas. Relief teams are standing by to deliver emergency supplies in the wake of the second major hurricane to strike the region in two weeks.

Honduras is predicted to receive a direct hit on 4 September, at which point the storm will move inland, bringing torrential rains and gusting wind to parts of Nicaragua, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. Some of these areas are still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Dean which made landfall on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula 21 August.

The Honduran Red Cross is bracing for Hurricane Felix with round-the-clock monitoring, mobilization of resources and coordination with authorities. Relief and intervention teams are on full alert, especially in the hurricane warning areas. Red Cross warehouse personnel in El Progreso to the north and La Ceiba on the east coast are standing by, ready to shift pre-positioned emergency supplies to affected areas once given the all-clear from authorities.

In Guatemala, Red Cross headquarters is gearing up to support relief efforts by local Red Cross branches in Puerto Barrios, Santo Tomás de Castilla, El Estor, Cobán y Petén. They are working closely with authorities to monitor developments and prepare a coordinated effort in response to the significant damage the storm could cause.

Belize Red Cross is back in preparedness mode, having just closed shelters for evacuated residents due to torrential rains and thunderstorms during last week of August. Last week, Belize City was completely underwater, with flooding reaching as high as 60 cm (2 feet) in some areas.

“A Belize Red Cross team trying to reach the northern districts of Orange Walk and Corozal, as part of the on-going Hurricane Dean operation, had to turn back as the main highway out of the city was totally flooded and the path of the road could not be seen,” described Thomas Doyle, a disaster management delegate in Belize, who is assisting with recovery efforts as part of the response coordinated by the International Federation’s Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU).

PADRU, based in Panama, has developed a comprehensive contingency and preparedness strategy for the 2007 Atlantic storm season. The unit supports vulnerable people affected by disasters throughout the Americas by reinforcing the capacity of National Societies before, during and after emergencies.

“Additional relief supplies for people affected by Hurricane Dean arrived by air from PADRU including tarpaulins, blankets, hygiene packs and kitchen sets. These will be distributed as soon as conditions allow,” added Doyle.

Hurricane Felix is expected to weaken to a category one storm as it moves inland over Mexico. This may means less wind, but accompanying drenching rains promise more flooding and potential landslides from the Yucatan to Mexico City, according to forecasters.

In a nationwide relief effort, Mexican Red Cross volunteers are assisting communities on the flood-ravaged Pacific coast from Hurricane Henriette as well as residents still recovering from Hurricane Dean.

Electricity, telephone and water services have been restored to 95 per cent of the regions affected by Dean. However, essential needs remain for food, shelter and seeds to replace lost harvests. The Mexican Red Cross is planning a three-month campaign to assist 75,000 people from that storm.

Meanwhile, in preparation for Felix, the Mexican Red Cross has called up its volunteers in Quintana Roo, the Yucatan, Campeche, Veracruz and Tamaulipas. Pre-positioned teams are equipped and ready to provide rescue and first aid, hand out food to 2,500 families, conduct damage assessment and coordinate relief efforts with the Mexican authorities.

Minimal damage and flooding was sustained to the Netherlands Antilles, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago when Hurricane Felix swept through the Caribbean as a category two storm. Aruba sustained power-outages resulting in calls to the Red Cross for assistance from elderly residents living alone. Some roofs were ripped off and trees toppled in Bonaire and Curacao, but all evacuation shelters on the islands are closed now. Finally, the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross handed out relief supplies to affected residents.

For more information see the map on hurricane Felix based on the National Hurricane Center.