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Published:September 10th, 2007 02:58 EST
USAID has given $1.3 million in Americas during 2007 hurricane season

USAID has given $1.3 million in Americas during 2007 hurricane season

By SOP newswire

Washington – U.S. civilian and military disaster experts in Nicaragua are assessing the damage caused by Hurricane Felix, which struck the region September 4 and claimed more than a hundred lives.

A 13-person hurricane assessment team from the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) began work in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, and Puerto Cabezas September 5, within 24 hours of the storm's passing, according to SOUTHCOM. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega met the team in Puerto Cabezas and thanked team members for their assistance, according to a report by the American Forces Press Service.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Jicha, commander of the Joint Task Force Bravo supporting relief efforts, said that an assessment using video and photographs has been made and is being studied by the team and the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua to determine what relief is needed.

"We will take the imagery ... and provide it to the embassy here, U.S. Southern Command headquarters, and back to Joint Task Force Bravo for them to make the determination of what is needed in the region," Jicha said to the American Forces Press Service.

Felix made landfall September 4 about 52 kilometers (20 miles) north of Puerto Cabezas as a rare Category 5 storm with winds estimated at 257 kilometers per hour (160 miles per hour) and waves that rose 5.4 meters (18 feet) above normal tides, destroying nearly 8,000 homes and damaging 2,000 others, according to Nicaraguan civil defense authorities.  The storm has claimed at least 130 lives, according to media reports, but the death toll is expected to rise as rescuers reach remote rural communities still isolated by swollen rivers and continue searching for fishermen who were working in the coastal waters before the storm.  

In response to the Nicaraguan government’s request for international assistance, USAID provided an initial $150,000 to support the relief efforts, in addition to the $25,000 for hurricane preparedness provided prior to Felix’s landfall. As Felix approached the region, USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance deployed 23 disaster response experts in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, and Mexico, to support response wherever the storm made landfall.

On September 6, a USAID shipment of blankets, plastic sheeting, hygiene kits and cleaning supplies arrived in Puerto Cabezas, the first of several shipments expected in the coming days.  Venezuela has sent aid as well, and 57 Cuban medical personnel active in the region also are participating in response operations.

USAID provided $75,000 to responders in Nicaragua, Belize, and Honduras to prepare for the storm and, earlier in the year, for the hurricane season. The agency also pre-positioned $45,000 in relief supplies with the Nicaraguan Red Cross. 

Within hours of the storm’s passing, USAID also was joined by SOUTHCOM, which diverted the USS Wasp, a multipurpose amphibious ship participating in a 16-nation naval counterterrorism exercise off the Panama coast, to join in the response.

The Hurricane Felix response by the United States is the latest aid in more than $1.3 million in recovery assistance to seven countries in the region in what is shaping up to be an active 2007 Atlantic hurricane season. In all, USAID has contributed more than $275,000 to date to Nicaragua’s response to Hurricane Felix.

In neighboring Honduras, USAID is monitoring the situation because Felix has led to rising rivers and evacuation of low-lying areas.  USAID already has provided $25,000 to support its response efforts and has dispatched a seven-member assessment team to the country. The disaster assessment team, which recently responded to an earthquake in Peru, was sent with two helicopters to help ferry a Nicaraguan search-and-rescue team to Puerto Cabezas, deliver aid to outlying areas, and join USAID in helping Nicaraguan authorities assess the damages and expedite aid to communities most in need. As in Nicaragua, the U.S. agency will be ready to provide additional assistance as needed.

Felix was the second Category 5 storm to strike the region in recent weeks, following Hurricane Dean, which swept the Caribbean and Central America, making landfall in Mexico.  Hurricane Henriette, a third, less powerful Pacific storm, also made landfall September 4 along Mexico’s southwestern coast.  

In response to Hurricane Dean, the United States has provided $572,243 to Jamaica for emergency supplies, health care support, and response personnel.  It provided USAID damage assessment response specialists to Mexico and donated $250,000 through the Mexican Red Cross to help provide shelter and home repair supplies.  Belize received $161,954 worth of relief supplies and preparedness assistance; Dominica received $161,954 in aid; and St. Lucia $40,432.

For more information, see the Hurricane Relief section of the USAID Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)