300,000 affected by floods in Central America as further heavy rains predicted

Published: 18 October 2011

October 18th 2011 – Panama/Geneva:  Red Cross agencies across Central America are on high alert as heavy rains continue to pound El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Over 300,000 people across the region have been affected or displaced, and with further heavy rain predicted for the coming days, the humanitarian situation could rapidly deteriorate.

Latest estimates say 150,000 people have already been affected in El Salvador, where 20,000 people are housed in 271 shelters. So far 32 deaths have been reported in the country, prompting the government to  declare a state of emergency. Around 300 people resisted evacuation in Bajo Lempa river delta, in the south, where water has risen to cover the roofs of houses, causing people to take refuge in the tops of trees. Due to landslides that have blocked roads, the Salvadorian Red Cross has had to coordinate with the Salvadorian Navy to perform boat rescues via the Jiquilisco Bay. 

In a press conference held with local media, El Salavador’s President Mauricio Funes said that throughout the nine days of heavy rains “the Salvadorian Red Cross has been the right hand of the government during the rescue and evacuation operations.” Still of concern in El Salvador is the condition of water-logged ground which has become unstable due to the large volume of rain fall.  The Spanish and Swiss Red Cross, both of whom have a presence in the country, have unified their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance such as mattresses, blankets and hygiene kits.

According to CONRED, the governmental agency responding to the emergency in Guatemala, 110,000 people have been affected, 29 are reported dead and six have been reported missing. 17 bridges  have suffered significant damage, and the inter-american highway has been shutdown until authorities deem it safe to transit. “The Guatemalan Red Cross activated its Emergency Operation Centre and began search and rescue operations as well as distribution of hygiene kits and blankets, in cooperation with governmental agencies” said Edgar Coy of the Guatemalan Red Cross.

At present, 32,000 people in Honduras are also in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, with 13 people reported dead and many communities in the north inaccessible due to landslides that have blocked roads. “Water, food and health services are key concerns for relief operations. A detailed damage assessment has been difficult due to limited access to the 11 municipalities that have been cut off” said Cristian Zamora of the Honduran Red Cross. A total of 27 communities have been cut off do to 46 damaged or obstructed roads and severely damaged bridges.

In Nicaragua, 25,000 people have been affected by heavy flooding which have so far claimed eight lives and injured 18 in the country. Volunteers of the Nicaraguan Red Cross are carrying out search and rescue as well as evacuation operations in collaboration with local authorities.

In Costa Rica, authorities predict there is more rain to come while 217 people remain in shelters, 5 people have been reported dead. 59 routes are affected of which 15 have been completely closed. “The Red Cross has been working to deliver blankets, mattresses and food, but the process has been somewhat hindered because one of our trucks suffered some damage over the weekend,” said Jim Batres of the Costa Rican Red Cross.

Staff and volunteers from Red Cross agencies across the region have put emergency evacuation plans in place, erected safe shelters and continue to distribute relief items to those affected. The Pan-American Disaster Response Unit has convened several emergency meetings with all of the affected countries in order to gather the most up to date information and provided the assistance necessary. Disaster Management Delegates have been mobilized to El Salvador and Guatemala and Disaster Emergency Relief Fund activations are under review to assist the humanitarian efforts throughout the region.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest volunteer-based humanitarian network, reaching 150 mil¬lion people each year through its 186 member National Societies. Together, the IFRC acts before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people. It does so with impartiality as to nationality, race, gender, religious beliefs, class and political opinions. For more information, please visit www.ifrc.org. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

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