On 4 September 2007 the eye of Hurricane Felix crossed the north-east coast of Nicaragua bringing 260 km/h winds and torrential rains that devastated much of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). Most severely damaged were the coastal communities of Waspan, Puerto Cabezas, and Prinzapolka and the mining towns of Siuna, Bonanza, and Rosita. Nicaragua’s national disaster prevention and response agency (SINAPRED) reported that there were 102 deaths and 133 persons missing as a result of the storm. Following impact, SINAPRED issued its highest warning level and, with the support of the military’s civil defense corps, put into effect its plan for evacuation, search and rescue for the affected population, and monitoring the situation.
The RAAN occupies over half of the country’s Caribbean coastline and one-quarter of national territory. The rural areas of the region are the most impoverished in the country. Eighty percent of its population lives in poverty; 30 percent in extreme poverty. Six of the seven municipalities, the exception being the city of Puerto Cabezas, have a largely rural population. Official estimates put the affected population at 198,069; 10,249 houses were destroyed, 11,519 wells were contaminated, and 179 public buildings, including 28 health centers, were damaged. Nearly 124 thousand hectares of crops were destroyed.
Emergency response was complicated because many communities could only be reached by air or sea. A large number of the affected indigenous communities are isolated. Living conditions in the region were already very poor, with housing that could not resist the forces of the wind and rain. Sanitation, which is difficult in normal times, was made worse by the lack of water supply and the deterioration of environmental conditions.
SINAPRED activated its national, regional, and local emergency response systems. In the RAAN, the municipal committees and the regional committee for disaster prevention, mitigation, and response (known as COMUPRED and COREPRED, respectively) worked to coordinate and facilitate humanitarian assistance for those affected by the storm. The Ministry of Health sent medical teams to treat people in affected communities, work in health promotion and disease prevention, and initiate water sanitation and vector control. In the first 15 days of the emergency, the most pressing needs were for food, disease surveillance, water and sanitation, repair of communication systems, house construction, and repair of health centers in Sandy Bay, the northern coastline, and Bilwi.
SINAPRED agreed to use the LSS/SUMA system to manage and distribute all of the incoming humanitarian assistance. PAHO, the UNDP, and NGOs provided financing and technical support for the installation and operation of the system in Managua and in the disaster-affected areas where warehouses were installed.