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Hurricane season 2005

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the worst ever. Officially lasting from 1 June to 30 November, it had already broken previous records by 27 October, with 23 tropical storms and seven major hurricanes.

Maya Indian father plays with his son among the destruction left by a deadly mudslide in the village of Panabaj, Guatemala, 7 October 2005.

ON 17 October, Hurricane Wilma set its own record as the strongest storm with wind speeds of 280 km/h. It also represented the first time that the list of internationally
approved names had been exhausted, forcing the World Meteorological Organization to resort to the letters of the Greek alphabet for subsequent storms.

The human toll has been considerable with dislocation, flooding and mudslides. At least 3,000 people died in both parts of the continent and the economic damage is estimated at more than US$ 100 billion.

The Pan American Emergency Response Unit (PADRU), which was established in 2001 to boost disaster preparedness and cooperation among National Societies in the Americas, played an important role in this year’s hurricane season.

Never intended to be large, the unit has been reinforced in recent years. It is centred on a small core of professionals who can call on the help of standby teams from participating National Societies. More than 200 delegates and specialists have supported the countries affected in the 2005 hurricane season.

PADRU is based in Panama and maintains a stock of relief goods in its warehouses there. During a disaster, it becomes a focal point for weekly meetings among National Societies to coordinate their relief efforts and take advantage of logistical synergies. In recent years, this has grown to include representatives of institutions outside the Movement such as the United Nations and the European Union. Memoranda of understanding have been signed with the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Food Programme.

In 2005 PADRU has been instrumental in getting emergency aid to 10,250 families across the region. In Guatemala alone 6,500 families received food, clean water, first aid and sanitation kits from the Guatemalan Red Cross using PADRU stocks. In a four-month period, 12 PADRU flights carried 218 tonnes of relief goods from Panama for distribution by National Societies in the region. In Guatemala a water purification and storage system was set up to provide 80,000 litres of clean water a day. It is complemented by two suction pumps cleaning wells in the area.

The Disaster Response Emergency Fund made
US$ 700,000 available to cover the immediate needs of 170,000 people. Further help was forthcoming as the International Federation issued several international appeals and coordinated international aid of some
US$ 7.9 million. These figures are considerably larger if assistance by the American Red Cross to the millions affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita is included.

The severity of this hurricane season will mean that people will be dependent on emergency aid longer than usual. “People have lost everything and will need shelter, food and health-care for months to come,” says Nelson Castaño, head of PADRU. “We are distributing kitchen utensils, hygiene kits, blankets and mosquito nets.”

He adds: “At the moment we are asking National Societies to maintain operations already in place, as we turn to rebuilding stocks of emergency goods in our warehouses to be ready for the next disaster.”


Manuel E. Rodriguez
Manuel E. Rodriguez is International Federation information officer in Panama


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