Relief efforts focus on survivors

BY PJ HELLER | TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras | November 4, 1998


A disaster response unit envisioned by Pastor James Roberts would include a chain saw crew from Southern Baptist churches in Lake City.
Credit: Southern Baptist Convention

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Nov. 4, 1998) - The death toll continued to mount

today throughout Central America with officials now fearing that more than

20,000 people may have died in the floods and mudslides brought on by

Hurricane Mitch.

The killer storm, which on Sunday had dissipated, regenerated on Tuesday

into a tropical storm and moved across the northwestern Yucatan Peninsula.

This morning, the National Weather Service first downgraded the storm to

a tropical depression, but as it once again moved into the Gulf of Mexico

Mitch was rated as a minimal tropical storm. It is expected to move rapidly

to the northeast.

Tropical storm warnings were posted this morning for central and

southern Florida including the Keys, where residents are still recoving

from Hurricane Georges that struck the area less than six weeks ago.

Forecasters said that isolated tornadoes could strike central and southern

Florida later today in advance of the storm and that coastal residents

could expect storm tides of three to five feet above normal.

With winds of 45 mph, the storm was nowhere near the intensity when it

tore through the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Honduras with winds of 180 mph.

It then disintegrated and stalled for six days over Honduras and Nicaragua,

dumping up to 2 feet of rain a day throughout the region.

Meantime, rescue efforts continued in Central America, particularly in

Honduras and Nicaragua which suffered the greatest devastation. Faith-based

organizations, relief agencies and governmental agencies in the U.S. and

elsewhere mounted massive efforts to aid survivors in the two countries,

both of which are among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

Officials from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa

Rica issued a plea at the United Nations for an international relief

effort.

Honduran officials reported 7,000 people were killed and between 11,000

and 13,000 others were missing and feared dead.

Tomas Lozano, the Honduran communications minister, said the death toll

was based on preliminary figures and was expected to rise as waters receded

and the country returned to normal.

In Nicaragua, at least 2,000 people were believed dead, most of them

buried by a mudslide at the Casita volcano in the northern part of the

country.

As if to add insult to injury, some 22 miles away, the Cerro Negro

volcano began erupting Tuesday afternoon. There were no reports of damage

or casualties.

An estimated 225 people died in flash flooding in El Salvador and

another 100 perished in Costa Rica. Mexico upped its death toll to five.

Officials feared the death toll could go even higher with the threat of

epidemics such as cholera, dengue fever and other diseases.

Food, medicine and water was in short supply and getting aid to many of

the survivors of the storm was complicated by both their remote locations

and the fact that both countries' infrastructure was nearly destroyed.

Helicopters were being used to bring in relief supplies and bring out

survivors from rural areas.

Julio Enamorado, vice consul at the Honduran Consulate in New York said

85 percent of his country had been destroyed. The number of people left

homeless ranged from 600,000 to more than 1 million.

"Most are hungry, thirsty, cold, and without adequate shelter," reported

Walter Britton, director for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in

Honduras. "Children, especially, are suffering."

On Guanaja, the worst hit of the three Bay Islands, all 12,000 residents

were reported homeless.

Faith-based organizations, many of which have been active in Central

America, were responding to the calls for help.

"Needs in Central America are simply enormous," said Johnny Wray,

executive director of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ Week of

Compassion. "The countries affected also have limited resources with which

to respond. Churches and their related services agencies are the only

source of help and hope for many communities."

Disciples of Christ Week of Compassion said it has forwarded $15,000 in

emergency grants to the Christian Commission for Development (CCD) in

Honduras, AIEH (the service arm of the Evangelical and Reformed Church in

Honduras) and Salvadoran Lutheran Relief, the relief arm of the Lutheran

Synod in El Salvador.

"It is unspeakable the damages that we are seeing," said Randy and Karen

Bardwell, missionaries with Assemblies of God in Honduras. "The entire city

of Tegucigalpa is like a battleground."

They issued an appeal for $50,000 to $100,000 for relief efforts.

Church World Service and Action by Churches Together have issued a joint

appeal for $250,000, but that appeal is being revised and updated as the

full extent of damages and suffering becomes known.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee expanded its fall storm

appeal by $200,000. It said $10,000 has already provided to Honduras and

Nicaragua and $5,000 to El Salvador.

The Honduras Baptist Mission and the Honduras Baptist Convention were

joining to take food, clothing and medicine to La Ceiba, Trujillo, Tocoa

and other areas along the northern Honduran coast, according to missionary

Ken Cummins.

At International Mission Board headquarters in Richmond, Va., $178,000

in relief aid was released for the Honduras project.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Nicaragua was

distributing chlorine for purifying water and delivering 10 military-type

water bladders that can hold a total 4,300 gallons of clean water.

ADRA was also sending 100 medicine boxes each to Nicaragua and Honduras.

Included in every Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA) box are 70 pounds of

each country's most needed medicines and supplies, including gauze and

bandages.

Because most roads are inaccessible leaving entire cities cut off, the

ADRA Nicaragua staff was building a makeshift ferry out of barrels and

planks in order to move relief supplies and people in and out of Ocotal,

the location of ADRA's project for child survival and supplementary

feeding.

In Honduras, ADRA was housing hurricane victims in five shelters located

on the mainland and in the Bay Islands. The ADRA Central Office and the

ADRA regional office, located in Coral Gables, Fla, was sending $30,000 to

provide emergency food assistance for an estimated 1,300 families. Relief

supplies, including tarps, blankets and plastic sheeting, were also being

shipped to the Bay Islands.

The Rev. Dick Nicholson of Assemblies of God said it will take more than

money to help in Central America.

"We have a complication of problems that are going to get worse and not

better in the days ahead," said Nicholson, division of foreign missions

field director for Latin America and the Caribbean. "We're doing everything

we can, but what we have is woefully short. Please pray. The most effective

thing is prayer, no matter how much money we raise."


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