Hurricane Eta: Nicaragua Prioritizes Saving And Improving Lives

Above photo: From Twitter.

How is it that there were only two lives lost during a level 4 Hurricane that affected Nicaragua beginning Nov. 2 on the Caribbean Coast? Nicaragua is constantly preparing and training people to save lives in disasters: thousands of people have participated in simulations for hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and more, and this happens a number of times during the year in every municipality.

Nicaragua is among the first countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with the best disaster risk management, according to a study conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in August 2020.

On Oct. 30 the National Institute of Emergency Preparedness, INPAE, was inaugurated to consolidate the training and preparation activities of the population developed by SINAPRED, The National System for Prevention, Mitigation and Attention to Disasters. It was inaugurated on the anniversary of one of the hardest days during Hurricane Mitch in 1998 when thousands of lives were lost in a mudslide, in part, because the government at the time would not declare an emergency and send in rescue teams. President Arnoldo Aleman, in particular, wouldn’t believe the Sandinista mayor of Posoltega despite her repeated calls for help to rescue people stuck in the mud.

What have been some of the important factors in Nicaragua’s preparedness for Hurricane ETA? An enormous one is the presence of several good highways from the center of the country to the Caribbean Coast, just finished in the last two years. This makes it much easier to quickly move vehicles, gasoline for trucks and boats, food and medical equipment just ahead of a disaster.

Moving people out of the way of the hurricane is essential to saving lives. Two days ahead of time, Oct. 31, some 120 fishermen were evacuated from the Miskito Keys to Bilwi by military personnel. On November 1 the people who live in the Keys were evacuated. The eye of the hurricane went right through the Miskito Keys the night of Nov. 2.

The other life-saver is moving people to safe shelters in strong buildings out of flood zones. On Nov. 2 10,000 people were moved to shelters in Bilwi and another 10,000 in Prinzapolka and nearly another 10,000 in other Caribbean Coast municipalities to protect lives.

The Navy evacuated 2,059 in other parts of the Caribbean Coast: 325 people were evacuated from Wawa Bar on the Caribbean; 1,285 people from Cabo Viejo, on the Caribbean near the Honduran border, were evacuated to the community of Wankawala; 138 people were evacuated from the mouth of Río Grande, Sandy Bay, Sirpi, Walpa, inland to Karawala; and 142 people from Tasbapounie evacuated to Orinoco. A search and rescue mission of 6 people was carried out at Barra Wawa Bar. And 163 fishermen who were in Cayos Perlas were evacuated to Laguna de Perlas.

The torrential downpours on November 4 have caused the flooding of some neighborhoods in Jinotega, San José de Bocay and Wiwilí where 27 people were evacuated by the army.  The strong currents of the Wamblán River dragged down the suspension bridge.

To save lives you must also have food and first response supplies in place before the disaster hits. The government sent many food caravans between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2. Trucks were loaded with food, blankets, mats, hammocks, thick plastic, and personal hygiene kits. And on Nov. 3 food, mattresses, blankets, hammocks, food, plastic and hygiene kits were sent to the evacuated families in Rosita, Bonanza and Prinzapolka because flooding is expected in these areas.

The other area in which the country must be well-prepared ahead of time is in health care. Ministry of Health authorities announced on Nov. 3 that in the city of Bilwi there are eight medical brigades mobilizing where medical attention is needed and the New Dawn mobile Hospital is functioning. Two emergency surgeries and two deliveries of babies had been performed by the morning of Nov. 3. “We are supplied with medicines, laboratory supplies, replacement material, oxygen, fuel, and food for our patients for a period of 45 days,” said Dr. Sonia Castro. She went on to say that they have “217 activated medical command posts are available as well as supplies and equipment for care; there are 1,670 medicine kits to attend 1,000 people per kit. And we have transportation and brigades for the transfer of patients in risk situations. We have 92 functioning power plants for the health units.”

The Health Minister Martha Reyes, announced the actions developed to confront Hurricane ETA, as a priority of the government. “We have 11 medical brigades in Waspán downstream and upstream and in Prinzapolka in the sector of Silibila. We have attended 119 pregnant women, 64 people with chronic diseases and 52 people with disabilities. We have organized 325 Brigades with 6,500 Health Partners. We have visited 4,650 homes in vulnerable locations. We visited all 153 municipalities to review the functioning of the local Emergency Health Plan.”

Writing on Nov. 4 there are still downpours in many places but the worst of the hurricane is over. Photos show the destruction of many homes, power lines, and more. But people are safe, have food and medical attention, and families will soon begin to receive plastic tarps and other items so that many can move back to their homes. The government has mobilized to help the people by supplying their emergency needs and soon officials will begin projects of home repairs and the building of new homes for those who lost their dwellings. The good thing is that the Nicaraguan government has the political will to organize supplies and workers to provide for the people in their time of need; the bad thing is that they have so much practice attending to disasters because of the country’s location in a zone of hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions!

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