Central America - Hurricane Mitch Fact Sheet # 22

Report
from US Agency for International Development
Published on 23 Dec 1998
U.S. AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
BUREAU FOR HUMANITARIAN RESPONSE (BHR)
OFFICE OF U.S. FOREIGN DISASTER ASSISTANCE (OFDA)

Transition from Emergency Response to Reconstruction and Rehabilitation: In light of diminishing emergency relief requirements in Central America, USAID is transitioning from critical emergency relief assistance to focus on longer-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and development initiatives. The USAID/OFDA regional office in San Jose, Costa Rica will continue to monitor and support on-going relief activities in response to Hurricane Mitch, as appropriate. The USAID Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean will implement the long-term reconstruction, rehabilitation and development initiatives. Specific reconstruction assessments and requirements in the areas of public health, economic reactivation, social infrastructure, transportation, housing and shelter, public services and environment are being reviewed. Possible U.S. and other donor inputs into the reconstruction effort are being coordinated with each country.

This will be the final USAID/OFDA Fact Sheet on Hurricane Mitch.

Background: Tropical Storm Mitch was one of the strongest and most damaging storms to ever hit the Caribbean and Central America. At its height on October 26 and 27, the hurricane had sustained winds of 180 mph and dumped heavy rains over Central America. Prior to Mitch making landfall, USAID/OFDA pre-positioned assets throughout the region along the storm's forecasted course, and quickly launched its emergency relief efforts as the hurricane passed overland. A USAID/OFDA Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) was established to coordinate the U.S. Government relief effort. Senior Regional Advisor and DART leader Paul Bell has managed the DART personnel and its operations in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua from the USAID/OFDA Regional Office in San Jose, Costa Rica.

USG Assistance: The U.S. Government (USG) assistance package for Central America in response to Hurricane Mitch totals $300 million. These funds have been, or are to be channeled through the following offices and agencies:

  • USAID/OFDA: $30 million
  • USAID/Food for Peace (FFP): $52 million
  • Department of Defense (DOD): $150 million
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): $63 million
  • Development/Micro-credit assistance: $5 million
USAID assistance will provide immediate disaster relief, including health and water/sanitation needs, food, shelter, and other emergency relief commodities.

Summary of USAID/OFDA Funding Assistance in Response to Hurricane Mitch:

  • USAID/OFDA Assistance in Honduras: $9,895,999
  • USAID/OFDA Assistance in Nicaragua: $4,844,267
  • USAID/OFDA Assistance in Guatemala: $1,257,013
  • USAID/OFDA Assistance in El Salvador: $1,123,451
  • USAID/OFDA Assistance in Costa Rica: $45,000
  • USAID/OFDA Assistance in Belize: $25,000
  • USAID/OFDA Assistance to Region-wide Responses: $11,660,000
  • Total USAID/OFDA Assistance for Hurricane Mitch (to date): $28,850,730
Honduras: Honduras suffered the brunt of Hurricane Mitch. After being stalled for more than two days off the country's northern coast, the storm traveled inland on October 30 and 31. Extensive wind damage and devastating floods occurred nationwide, particularly along the northern seaboard and in the Bay Islands. As of December 1, the National Emergency Committee of Honduras (CONEH) reported that 5,657 persons were killed, 8,052 were missing, 11,762 were injured while approximately 1.9 million were affected.

Disaster Assessment Summary: The destruction to the country's road network and coastal ports was extensive. USAID/OFDA DART estimated that more than 92 bridges were destroyed and 75 were damaged by the storm. The crippling of the nation's infrastructure isolated entire communities, made access by emergency aid workers extremely difficult, and hampered efforts to supply the larger cities with food, water and other essentials.

Thousands of homes were also affected by high winds and flooding. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated at least 70,000 houses had been damaged by Hurricane Mitch. The Government of Honduras estimates that some 2.1 million were forced to temporarily evacuate their homes in the storm's wake. The vast majority of those have returned, but thousands still remain in temporary shelters.

Hurricane Mitch had a severe impact on food security. Initial reports estimated that nearly 2 million people were in immediate need of food assistance. Emergency food aid was most critical during the first few weeks of the disaster response, but a large segment of the population will continue to require food assistance for the next several months. USAID/FFP is providing 60,000MT of food aid, valued at $35 million, to meet the needs of an average of 800,000 people through August 1999.

Hurricane Mitch had a negative impact on the agricultural sector as well. Cash crops were most severely affected, with the banana industry losing an estimated 90% of its plants. Staple crops, by comparison, sustained less damage as they are generally grown on higher ground. As a result, there is an ample supply of food in the local markets. Acute food shortages requiring emergency relief were due more to lack of access to markets than to lack of adequate food stocks.

Hurricane Mitch caused serious health problems, due largely to lack of potable water, contamination of water sources, and the presence of stagnant pools that serve as breeding grounds for disease vectors. OCHA estimated that 80% of the domestic water distribution systems were damaged. Between November 1 and November 28 the Honduran Ministry of Health reported 18 confirmed cases of cholera; 1,908 cases of malaria; 6 cases of leptospirosis; 1,165 cases of dengue and 49 cases of hemorrhagic dengue.

Immediate USAID/OFDA Response: On October 27, the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras James F. Creagan declared a disaster due to the impacts of Hurricane Mitch. On that same date, USAID/OFDA DART was established and USAID/OFDA response activities began. A total of fifteen disaster specialists operated in Honduras, and one DART member continues to visit Honduras intermittently to monitor humanitarian assistance needs and USAID/OFDA-funded programs. In response to DART assessments and recommendations, USAID/OFDA has funded the following activities in Honduras:

USAID/OFDA Assistance to Honduras:

  • Funding to COPECO for purchase of relief supplies (food, blankets, etc.): $125,000
  • 1,038 rolls of plastic sheeting; 32 10,000-liter water bladders; 25,500 five-gallon water jugs; and 1,004 body bags: $311,909
  • Airlift of relief commodities: $212,090
  • Funding for DoD aircraft for overflight assessments, transport of relief items, and search and rescue activities: $750,000
  • Grant to PVOs for immediate purchase and distribution of relief supplies: $800,000
  • Mission Allowances for purchase and distribution of relief supplies: $400,000
  • Grants to SANAA and FHIS for water system repairs: $2,000,000
  • Grant to CARE for disaster relief projects: $2,133,000
  • Grants to PVOs for transitional disaster relief projects: $3,164,000
  • Total USAID/OFDA Funding in Honduras (to date): $9,895,999
Nicaragua: Mitch inflicted its greatest damage in Nicaragua through severe rains that caused extensive flooding and landslides. As of November 19, the Nicaraguan National Emergency Commission (NEC) estimated that 2,863 people had died, 884 were missing, and 867,752 were affected as a result of the disaster, many after a large mudslide inundated ten communities situated at the base of the Casitas Volcano. The NEC estimates that total economic losses were $400 million in housing, $605 million in the transportation network, $185 million in other infrastructure and $170 million in agriculture.

Disaster Assessment Summary: As of November 24, the NEC reported that 33 bridges were destroyed and 86 were damaged. OCHA estimated that 70% of roads were impassable immediately after the storm, and the Government of Nicaragua (GON) estimated that 8,000 kilometers of roadway were damaged. During the initial phase of the disaster response air transport was the only means to transport emergency relief supplies, including both food and non-food items.

On November 19, the GON estimated that 31,750 houses were destroyed and 113,950 were damaged. On November 24, the NEC reported that of the 368,261 persons were still displaced and 65,271 remained housed in 304 emergency shelters.

Hurricane Mitch also had a severe impact on food security and the agricultural sector in Nicaragua. Emergency food aid needs were most critical during the first few weeks of the response as hundreds of thousands were temporarily displaced from their homes. An estimated 800,000 people needed immediate food aid. USAID/FFP is providing 19,700MT of food aid valued at $12 million to help meet the needs of 400,000 people for six months.

In addition, Mitch had a devastating impact on the agricultural sector in Nicaragua. The storm hit during the second, and largest, harvest season when most of the beans and vegetables are planted, and just before the third planting season for basic grains. The rains and flooding not only reduced the harvest of food crops, they also destroyed much of the seed stock. Floods also damaged soil and water conservation works, fences, seed beds, storage facilities, wells and irrigation structures. The GON estimates that this sector suffered $170 million in losses.

Mitch caused serious losses to the internal health, water and sanitation infrastructures in Nicaragua. According to NEC, 11 health centers were destroyed and 72 were damaged. Further, the GON reported that 416 health posts were damaged. The loss of infrastructure combined with the presence of stagnate water generated favorable conditions for gastrointestinal and respiratory ailments, and the increase of vector-borne diseases. Furthermore, flood waters and sewage contaminated water sources in many areas, which created a lack of potable water. On November 30, PAHO continued to report epidemics in Nicaragua for the following diseases: cholera, leptospirosis and dengue. For the period of November 1 to November 28, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health reported 380 suspected cases of cholera; 2,723 cases of malaria; 523 cases of leptospirosis; and 1,244 cases of dengue.

Immediate USAID/OFDA Response: On October 29, U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Lino Gutierrez declared a disaster due to the catastrophic flooding. On that same date, USAID/OFDA DART was established and USAID/OFDA response activities began. A total of eleven disaster response specialists operated in Nicaragua and one DART member remains in-country. That member is scheduled to depart on or about December 19. 6 In response to DART assessments and recommendations, USAID/OFDA has funded the following activities in Nicaragua:

USAID/OFDA Assistance to Nicaragua:

  • Ambassador Assistance Authority for purchase/transport of relief supplies: $25,000
  • Funding for DOD helicopters for search and rescue activities, and transport of emergency supplies: $250,000
  • 279 rolls of plastic sheeting; 15,500 five-gallon water jugs; three 10,000-liter water bladder; 4,000 wool blankets; 10,000 polyester blankets: $229,287
  • Airlift of relief commodities: $189,980
  • USAID/Mission Allowances for local purchase and transport of relief supplies: $150,000
  • Grants to PVOs for disaster relief projects: $4,000,000
  • Total USAID/OFDA Funding in Nicaragua (to date): $4,844,267
Guatemala: The storm moved north and west across Guatemala on November 1, causing heavy rains and severe flooding. As of November 9, officials reported a total of 258 deaths and 120 people missing in Guatemala.

Disaster Assessment Summary: The Guatemalan emergency response agency (CONRED) evacuated 5,969 people from vulnerable areas prior to the storm's arrival. CONRED reported that 1,797 homes were destroyed and a further 17,188 were heavily damaged by Hurricane Mitch. After the storm's arrival, a total of 106,954 people were temporarily evacuated from their homes and the Red Cross estimated that 27,000 people were still housed in shelters as of November 4. Although people are beginning to return home, many still occupy the temporary housing.

The most recent reporting from OCHA indicated that 32 bridges and 40 roads had been severely damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Mitch's flood waters. In the early days of the disaster response, air transport was the only means to transport emergency relief supplies, including both food and non-food items. However, by November 25, all major roads in Guatemala were open and the major highway linking the Atlantic and Pacific coasts was operable.

On November 5, the U.S. Embassy estimated that 95% of the nation's banana crop was damaged, 25-60% of the corn, bean, coffee, and sugar crops were destroyed, and 30% of the cattle herd was lost. This placed a heavy burden on those who rely on subsistence crops for their food. Over the next three months, about 65,000 people will require food assistance. USAID/FFP is providing 7,640MT of food aid valued at $5 million to help meet this need.

Hurricane Mitch caused serious damage and contamination to potable water sources and water delivery systems in many areas of Guatemala. As a result, the incidence of water-borne diseases increased in the wake of the disaster. Additionally, stagnate pools of flood water served as breeding grounds for vectors, leading to an increase in the incidence of vector-borne diseases. PAHO and the Guatemalan Ministry of Health report 1,941 suspected cases of cholera and five confirmed cases of leptospirosis. In addition, a rise in the incidence of dengue is being reported. No hemorrhagic dengue is reported.

Immediate USAID/OFDA Response: USAID/OFDA pre-positioned disaster relief personnel in Guatemala on October 27, and a total of five DART members operated in the country until December 11. On October 31, Ambassador Donald J. Planty declared a disaster for Guatemala, and USAID/OFDA response activities began immediately. In response to DART assessments and recommendations, USAID/OFDA has funded the following activities in Guatemala:

USAID/OFDA Assistance to Guatemala:

  • Ambassador Assistance Authority for purchase/transport of food through CRS: $25,000
  • 290 rolls of plastic sheeting, 7,350 five-gallon water jugs, four 3,000-gallon water tanks, 3,000 polyester blankets: $89,513
  • Airlift of relief commodities: $92,500
  • Rental of local helicopters for aerial assessments: $50,000
  • Grants to PVOs for disaster relief transition projects: $1,000,000
  • Total USAID/OFDA Assistance to Guatemala (to date): $1,257,013
El Salvador: Hurricane Mitch struck El Salvador on the night of October 30, bringing with it high winds and torrential rains. Heavy rains continued through November 1 causing floods and landslides, particularly in the country's eastern lowlands. As of November 13, the National Emergency Committee of El Salvador (COEN) reported 240 deaths and 84,000 people affected. The departments of Usulatan and San Miguel were the areas most severely impacted.

Disaster Assessment Summary: As of November 6, the Government of El Salvador estimated that 55,864 people had been displaced by Hurricane Mitch and had occupied 107 emergency shelters. The USAID/OFDA DART estimated that 1,000 houses were destroyed. In addition, COEN reports that 10,372 homes were damaged. By November 24, the DART estimated that 99 percent of those forced to evacuate during the flooding had returned to their homes.

Damage to infrastructure in El Salvador was relatively slight compared to what was experienced in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. COEN reported that 10 bridges, 1,308 km of paved road and 2,665 km of unpaved road were damaged. In the first few days of the response, air support was necessary to conduct reconnaissance and assessments of flood-affected areas. Currently, all major roads in El Salvador are open and relief supplies can easily be distributed by land.

Agriculture was among the most severely affected sectors in El Salvador. Losses in food crops vary from 20 percent of the corn crop to 100 percent of the bean crop in some areas. Additionally, some 23,000 domestic farm animals were killed, primarily poultry. The most significant losses were suffered by small landholders.

Mitch caused losses to the internal health, water and sanitation infrastructures in El Salvador. According to COEN, 15 health centers were damaged. Water service was also interrupted in many areas, as water systems suffered damage to their pumping stations and spring intakes. Furthermore, water wells were contaminated by flooding because well covers were not an established practice. Thus, the lack of potable water and sanitation are major concerns. This infrastructure damage, combined with the presence of stagnate flood water, have generated favorable conditions for gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases, and the increase in vector-borne diseases. Furthermore, flood waters and sewage have contaminated water sources in affected areas. Nevertheless, as of November 30, PAHO reported only eight cases of cholera in El Salvador.

Immediate USAID/OFDA Response: Ambassador Anne W. Patterson declared a disaster in El Salvador on November 1. On that same date, USAID/OFDA DART was established and USAID/OFDA response activities began. A total of four USAID/OFDA DART members were posted in San Salvador, the last member departing on December 11. In response to DART assessments and recommendations, USAID/OFDA has funded the following activities in El Salvador:

USAID/OFDA Assistance to El Salvador:

  • Ambassador Assistance Authority for purchase/transport of relief commodities: $25,000
  • 117 rolls of plastic sheeting, 6,000 five-gallon water jugs, four 3,000-gallon water storage tanks, 5,150 polyester blankets: 68,451
  • Airlift of relief commodities: $30,000
  • Grants to PVOs for disaster relief transition projects: $1,000,000
  • Total USAID/OFDA Assistance to El Salvador (to date): $1,123,451
Region-wide Responses: In addition to assistance provided relief activities in specific countries affected by Hurricane Mitch, USAID/OFDA has provided significant funding to support various regional disaster response efforts. Funding details for regional responses are as follows:

USAID/OFDA Region-wide Responses:

  • Grant to PAHO for health, water and sanitation activities: $2,000,000
  • Funding for DOD helicopters for transport of emergency supplies: $4,000,000
  • Funding to DOD for reconstruction activities, including the purchase of materials and supplies: $5,000,000
  • Funding to CIAT for seed multiplication in Nicaragua and Honduras: $500,000
  • Funding to OFDA/LAC for administrative costs and travel: $160,000
  • Total USAID/OFDA Assistance to Region-wide Responses (to date): $11,660,000
Belize: The Government of Belize established an Emergency Operations Center to prepare for the storm's arrival and evacuated over 75,000 people from Belize City and the coastal islands to temporary shelters in Belmopan. Contrary to initial forecasts, the hurricane did not directly strike Belize. Nonetheless, heavy rains caused flooding throughout the coastal areas, particularly in Belize City. The Government of Belize has since granted permission for residents to return to Belize City, however according to the Red Cross thousands had opted to remain in emergency shelters long afterward.

Immediate USAID/OFDA Response: On October 29, U.S. Charge d'Affaires Joel Danies declared a disaster for Belize due to the impacts of Hurricane Mitch. In response, USAID/OFDA immediately provided $25,000 for the local purchase of food for distribution to displaced populations inhabiting emergency shelters. In addition, USAID/OFDA provided funding for two DOD Black Hawk helicopters based in Honduras to conduct overflight assessments and evacuations. Weather conditions during the storm's peak never permitted these aircraft to fly and as Hurricane Mitch turned and tracked away from Belize the helicopters were deployed to support emergency logistics requirements in Nicaragua. A four-person USAID/OFDA assessment team was in Belize from October 29 to October 31. The team assessed needs of the evacuated population and reported that food stocks were adequate in Belmopan, but in short supply at Belize City. The team also reported that sanitation and hygiene were poor in all flood-affected areas. No additional USAID/OFDA assistance is anticipated for Belize.

Costa Rica: Heavy rains along the entire Pacific coast of Costa Rica prompted the National Emergency Commission to evacuate at-risk populations. Four people are reported dead as a result of the storm while four are still missing.

Immediate USAID/OFDA Response: On October 23, the U.S. Charge d'Affaires to Costa Rica Richard L. Baltimore III declared a disaster due to severe flooding caused by Hurricane Mitch. USAID/OFDA responded by providing a total of $45,000 to the U.S. Embassy in San Jose. Funds were used to rent local helicopters to provide overflight assessments and the delivery of food, water, and medicine to affected populations. No additional USAID/OFDA assistance is anticipated for Costa Rica.