Hurricane Charley highlights auxiliary role

Publié: 13 août 2004 0:00 CET

Hurricane Charley has swept through Cuba and is heading north towards the American state of Florida, where the authorities have declared a state of emergency and nearly one million people have been urged to leave their homes.

The hurricane, carrying winds of 165 km an hour, made landfall in Cuba near the southern port of Batabano and passed within 25km of the capital, Havana.

The Cuban authorities say Charley has caused widespread damage to property, but reported no fatalities. This has been due in no small measure to the disaster preparedness measures put in place by the Cuban authorities and the Cuban Red Cross.

Charley had already hit the Cayman Islands on Thursday morning, but there were no reports of major damage or injuries. One person was reportedly killed when the hurricane brought heavy rain, flooding and landslides to Jamaica on Wednesday night.

As these countries are regularly affected by the annual hurricane season, contingency plans were in place well before the storm hit and shelters were ready to receive those who might be affected.

Hurricane Charley has demonstrated again the important role national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies play in acting as auxiliaries to the public authorities of their countries in the humanitarian field, whether it be in the health sector or, as in this case, in relief and disaster preparedness activities.

The Jamaica Red Cross (JRC), for example, established an Emergency Operation Centre following a meeting with the National Emergency Management Office, and placed branches on alert.

Three JRC community disaster response teams, funded by the European Commission’s humanitarian fund, ECHO, were on standby to lend assistance. The Red Cross, which is responsible for managing hurricane shelters in Jamaica, was especially vigilant in flood-prone districts.

In the Cayman Islands, a Red Cross shelter was prepared in George Town in anticipation of the coming storm.

In Cuba, where some 200,000 people were evacuated from western regions, disaster preparedness measures again paid dividends, as they did in 2002, when, despite the island being battered by Hurricanes Isidore and Lily, no deaths or injuries were reported.

Once again prompt and well-organized evacuation procedures and shelter management seem to have saved lives.

The Federation’s Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU), its delegation in Panama and office in Port of Spain have been monitoring the hurricane, ensuring that the right preparations have been made and offering support where necessary. Red Cross disaster management personnel throughout Central America and the Caribbean are on standby, awaiting further developments.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross is urging residents along Florida’s west coast to heed the advice of officials and prepare for evacuation. The Red Cross has been advising residents on what to do in the event of the hurricane hitting their community. It is also preparing to open shelters in the affected areas – between the Florida Keys and Tampa Bay. Tropical Storm Bonnie is also expected to hit Florida in the coming days.

Florida officials say this could be the state’s biggest evacuation request since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

“It is vital that we work to keep our families safe by preparing for hurricane season before it even starts. The time to prepare is now. Taking a few moments to discuss some simple, common-sense preparedness steps with your family can save your life and the lives of the ones you love,” Joe Becker, Vice President of Response at the American Red Cross, explains.