Guatemala Storm, Volcano Spur CRS Emergency Response

Torrential rains brought by Agatha, the first storm of the 2010 season, pounded Central America this weekend, triggering floods and landslides that buried homes, collapsed bridges, destroyed crops, and opened up a massive sinkhole in Guatemala City.

CRS has committed an initial $500,000 in cash and emergency supplies to the Guatemala relief efforts and will continue to prepare and respond to upcoming storms throughout the season.

In Guatemala alone, the storm dumped more than three feet of rain in some parts of the country on May 29 and May 30, taking the lives of 123 people and forcing about 29,000 to take refuge in emergency shelters. It left a trail of some 9,000 destroyed homes and a number of areas that are still inaccessible due to landslides and bridge outages.

All told, 19 of the 22 departments in the country were affected, particularly those in the Western Highlands and along the Pacific Coast.

With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting an “active to extremely active storm season,” for the Atlantic basin, CRS is prepared to respond to the changing needs in the region. “Experience has shown us that the immediate needs for people who are displaced during an emergency are: food, shelter and water and sanitation,” says Ken Polsky, CRS regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, “To respond to this we have pre-positioned supplies throughout the region such as: mattresses, plastic sheeting for shelter, kitchen items, personal care items, water collection and purification supplies and food.”

Having worked in Central America for more than 50 years, CRS has built key relationships with local partners to maximize the communities’ preparedness and response to disasters. When Hurricane Stan struck the country in 2005 causing hurricanes and landslides, CRS responded in two phases. We provided emergency food and shelter to 4,000 families in the critical days and weeks following the storm. Our long-term recovery plan built short-term shelters, rehabilitated water systems, distributed food to women and children, and trained community leaders on disaster mitigation techniques.

“We realize that Central America is prone to severe weather and have incorporated safeguards into our programming in the region to help mitigate the impact wrought by the hurricane season,” says Polsky. “For example, we work with communities to elevate their grain storage to protect their harvests from flooding.”

Currently CRS is working with a network of partners in affected areas to assess the damage and deliver emergency supplies. The damage in Guatemala is exacerbated by the recent volcanic eruption of Pacaya, an active volcano about 20 miles southwest of the capital. Last Thursday’s eruption spewed rock ash that covered the city, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced the closure of the capital’s airport.

“People are still sweeping,” says CRS country representative in Guatemala, Anne Bousquet, of the volcanic ash, “it’s like snow that doesn’t melt that is going to take a long time to clean up. The big issue is roof collapses because when it gets wet it gets heavy.”

Bousquet says the flooding, as well as damage assessments and rescue efforts, may be worsened by the ash that now clogs critical drainage canals.

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One Response to “Guatemala Storm, Volcano Spur CRS Emergency Response”

  1. Derrick Says:

    Thanks for the work that you do, and may God bless you as you act.

    Peace,
    Derrick

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