Tropical storm Agatha: Red Cross assists population affected by first storm in Central America

Published: 31 May 2010

The heavy rain accompanying Tropical storm Agatha has resulted in severe flooding in Central America causing rivers to break their banks, mudslides and infrastructure to collapse. So far, the local authorities have confirmed at least 82 deaths in Guatemala, 13 in El Salvador and 2 in Honduras as a result of the tropical storm, which was downgraded to a tropical depression after making landfall.

“The speed at which the storm formed and touched land complicated the situation considerably. Fortunately, thanks to the disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness programmes and initiatives that have been carried out in the region after Hurricane Mitch, we hope that the damage caused by Agatha is not as bad as it could have been otherwise,”says Felipe del Cid, disaster management delegate with the International Federation’s Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU).

“Now we have to pay special attention to the impact that Agatha has had on the risk reduction mechanisms in the communities, such as the dykes, retention walls and drains. We have to be sure that this first storm does not reduce the community’s capacity to withstand the rest of the hurricane season,” warns del Cid.

Guatemala

In Guatemala, the floods and mudslides triggered by the heavy rain have had a particular impact on the departments of Escuintla, Suchitepéquez, Retalhuleu, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, Totonicapán, Sololá, Chimaltenango and Guatemala. So far, the authorities have reported 82 deaths, 58 people missing and over 81,700 people affected.

The Guatemalan Red Cross is maintaining activities in its emergency operations centre and is closely monitoring the situation. It is also coordinating response activities with its various branches and working with the national coordinator for disaster reduction – or CONRED, as it is known in Spanish.

Guatemalan Red Cross volunteers continue to carry out search and rescue activities, damage and needs assessments, and manage the communal centres that are being used as temporary shelter for those affected.

Seven Guatemalan Red Cross national intervention teams have been deployed to the affected areas to carry out rapid assessments in three communal centres, which are serving as shelters for more than 1,200 people. Additionally, with the support of the First Lady’s Secretary for Social Work (Secretaría de Obras Sociales de La Esposa del Presidente, or SOSEP, in Spanish), the team will install tanks of potable water in the shelters with a total capacity of some 9,400 litres. They will also carry out hygiene promotion activities.

El Salvador

According to reports from the authorities, Tropical storm Agatha has caused the deaths of 13 people, and has resulted in the evacuation of more than 8,000 others. Some 139 mudslides have brought down electricity poles and other small structures across the country.

The Salvadorean Red Cross national director for risk and disaster management is closely following the disaster and, through its emergency operations centre, is coordinating more than 500 volunteers in 41 branches, who remain on alert.

Salvadorean Red Cross staff and volunteers were immediately deployed to the worst affected areas where they remain active. Various search and rescue groups, including aerial response units, have also been mobilized to assist in the search for missing people. At the same time, Salvadorean Red Cross teams continue to assess houses and infrastructure for damage.

Honduras

In Honduras, where Tropical storm Agatha has also led to a national emergency being declared, the Honduran Red Cross is coordinating with national emergency organizations and is mobilizing its volunteers to assist with aid efforts. At least two deaths have been reported.

Working together

The International Federation, through the PADRU response unit based in Panama, and together with the regional representation for Mexico and Central America, is in constant contact with the Red Cross societies in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and others working in the region, so as to be ready to initiate an international response should it be necessary.

Read about the Red Cross preparation for hurricane season 2010.

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