Posted in Issue 101 October 2005 Member Countries
For the last several years, experts have predicted that hurricane seasons will become more active and destructive. The 2004 season lived up to that prediction, but the current hurricane season has topped the record with 23 named storms. Katrina, Rita, Stan, Wilma, Alpha and Beta all left a path of destruction across the Caribbean, Central America and the U.S.
Katrina & Rita
Hurricane Katrina was one the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. It made landfall near New Orleans, Louisiana on 29 August 2005, with sustained wind speeds of approximately 200 km/hour. As Katrina submerged 80% of the city under water, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quickly declared a public health emergency. Katrina affected the U.S. states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and almost 500,000 affected. Damage to housing and infrastructure is estimated at more than US$25 billion. Two months after the hurricane, thousands remain displaced, many of whom are not planning to return to their damaged or destroyed homes.
Almost four weeks after the onslaught of Katrina, Hurricane Rita dealt another devastating blow to the same area, causing flooding to reoccur in New Orleans and other low-lying areas of Louisiana. This time, however, the U.S. state of Texas suffered the direct brunt of the storm. The fact that several million people chose to heed evacuation warnings may have contributed to the reduced death toll.
Alfa & Beta
Tropical Storm Alpha—the 22nd named storm of the season—passed over the island of Hispaniola on 22-23 October with intense rains in the mountainous region along the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In Haiti, the strong rains produced localized floods throughout most of the country. Thirteen people died and many houses were damaged or destroyed. Several main roads were closed or left with very limited access. A health center in Anse-a-Pitre was affected by the floods. This is a recurring problem, as the center is located in a vulnerable area of the village.
Hurricane Beta hit Nicaragua as a Category 2 hurricane, but was quickly downgraded to Tropical Storm. It caused heavy rains along the Atlantic Coast, but less damage than anticipated. As a precaution, several communities were evacuated, including a hospital where services continued throughout the storm. At another location, backup staff was in place to ensure continued services and basic sanitation. In the end, most health problems reported were related to respiratory diseases.
Although Hurricane Stan only reached category 1, it struck Central America during the rainy season in early October, drenching already saturated areas and causing devastating landslides, especially in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Fifteen of Guatemala’s 22 departments were affected by the rains and landslides caused by Stan. The official death toll is 669 people, with most of the deaths the result of landslides that buried entire communities. Currently, 844 people are still missing and feared dead and an estimated 80,000 had to seek refuge in shelters or with relatives because their homes were damaged or destroyed.
A PAHO/WHO team installed the LSS/SUMA system to manage humanitarian relief supplies. Several training workshops were held to familiarize national staff with the new features of the Logistics Support System. The disaster affected several key systems including water and food supply; sanitation; housing, building and road infrastructure; health services; and communications. Losses have been estimated at more than US$21 million.
El Salvador was also hard hit by Stan. Sixty-nine people lost their lives, and at one point more than 50,000 were in temporary shelters. The situation was compounded by the eruption of the Santa Ana (Ilamatepec) volcano a week earlier. Most of those displaced by the floods and landslides have returned home, but some 12,000 still remain in temporary shelters, primarily because of volcanic activity. Accordingly, the number of cases of dengue fever rose sharply following Stan.
One of the communities affected by Stan was Villa Centenario, a model complex of “healthy” housing, built in the wake of Hurricane Mitch with funds from several donors, including PAHO. The high winds, heavy rains and mudslides damaged the outdoor latrines, septic tanks and roads. In addition, a bridge connecting Villa Centenario to nearby cities was also destroyed, isolating the village from health services and needed supplies.
Hurricane Stan made landfall south of Veracruz, Mexico on October 4, with winds of 80 miles per hour, before weakening to a tropical storm. The heavy rainfall caused widespread and severe flooding and landslides that affected thousands of people, primarily in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Although there was serious damage and loss of infrastructure, few lives were lost due to widespread evacuations prior to Stan’s arrival. The southern state of Chiapas was the most affected, 6,000 homes were damaged and 13,645 persons sought refuge in temporary shelters. In the state of Veracruz, 22 health centers were damaged by the storm.
The heavy rainfall from Stan—which only had tropical storm strength in Nicaragua—caused flooding and landslides in the Departments of Esteli, Chinandega, and Jinotega, causing more than 800 people to be evacuated to temporary shelters. Nicaragua was struck again by Hurricane Beta in late October.
The Yucatan Peninsula which had already been affected by Hurricane Emily in July was dealt an even worse blow by Hurricane Wilma, which caused extensive damage to the tourist infrastructure around Cozumel and Cancun. On October 25, Wilma caused severe flooding, leaving more than 300,000 people displaced in the city of Cancun alone. More than 1 million people were affected and 7 dead as a result of the storm.
Wilma was a slow-moving storm, battering Cuba with heavy rains for 10 days. As Wilma became a full-fledged hurricane, it affected Cuba’s southern coast and the municipalities of Pinar del Rio and Havana. High tides caused water to penetrate 500-700 meters inland, saturating the soil with salt water and affecting crops and vegetation.
Authorities worked around the clock to restore electric power in order to minimize interruptions to drinking water systems. More than 600,000 people were evacuated prior to the storm. Additionally, the health sector deployed medical teams to the most affected areas to treat casualties, maintain services and carry out epidemiological surveillance to prevent disease outbreaks.
Wilma’s high winds caused widespread damage to the southern part of Florida. In addition, the rain and storm surge caused flooding in the Keys. Thousands of people were left homeless, as the storm damaged or destroyed hundreds of mobile homes and high-rise condominiums. In the end, three deaths were attributed to the storm. Many parts of the state were left without electricity, which also affected telephone communications, and the distribution of gas and drinking water. The citrus crops, which had already been affected last year by hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne, once again suffered heavy losses.
After leaving Florida’s eastern coast, Hurricane Wilma passed over the northwestern Bahamas on 24 October as a Category 2/3 storm, with wind speeds in excess of 115 mph. The storm directly affected the islands of Grand Bahama and Bimini and brought with it flooding and a storm surge. One death was reported in Grand Bahama as a result of the storm. Several “at risk” communities, located in the western part of Grand Bahama were also hard hit. Sadly, these same communities were affected by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004. The Rand Memorial Hospital on Grand Bahama suffered minor damage but remained functional.