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Red Cross Responds to Flooding in El Salvador
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November 20, 2009

The American Red Cross is sending relief for communities that were impacted by Tropical Storm Ida in El Salvador, which unleashed heavy rain two weeks ago, triggering floods and landslides that left scores dead and missing.

The Salvadorian Red Cross delivers food and clothing to families that live near the Acahuapa River in San Vicente.
The Salvadorian Red Cross delivers food and clothing to families that live near the Acahuapa River in San Vicente.
Credit: Salvadorian Red Cross Society.
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Local aid workers have not been able to meet humanitarian needs of thousands of families. Accordingly, the American Red Cross will contribute $100,000 in cash to support the construction of transitional shelters for families who lost their homes. The organization is also sending kitchen sets and hygiene kits from its warehouse in Panama for 500 families.

“The Salvadorian Red Cross has hundreds of its volunteers on the ground for response, but they need supplies and funds to continue their operations,” said Guillermo Garcia, American Red Cross Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “We are ready to provide more assistance if requested.”

The storm caused many rivers to overflow, destroying water, electrical and telecommunications systems, and damaging roads, health centers and houses. Responders are focused on providing food items, water, hygiene items, shelter and basic health care.

“The Storm Didn’t Leave Anything”

Teofila Ortiz lives in one of the most impacted areas in San Vicente, where the local Acahuapa River flooded, killing several residents and uprooting trees, houses and animals.

“It’s an indescribable pain. I don’t know what to say. My daughter is in the hospital, my house is destroyed. The storm didn’t leave anything—not even the clothes of my four grandchildren,” she said.

The local community was surprised by the strong storm. By midnight on November 7th, houses started to shake with the impact of rocks dragged by the powerful water.

Scared residents tried to leave the houses, but in many cases the water reached the roof level, and some people had to break their roof to leave. Others waited for the water level to decrease or were swept away by the current.

After the completion of search and rescue activities during the first 36 hours, Salvadorian Red Cross volunteers started to provide relief in the most affected areas of the country. With the support of the global Red Cross network, they continue to assist those affected as they work to rebuild their communities and their lives.

Red Cross Has “Long-Term Commitment”

Before the storm struck, the American Red Cross had been helping towns and villages throughout the country.

Using its own expertise and experience, the American Red Cross has worked for many years with sister Red Cross societies to prepare local communities for disasters. In El Salvador, as with six other countries in Latin America and five in the Caribbean, the American Red Cross has been helping to train local staff and volunteers in disaster preparedness techniques, implement education programs, and support projects that decrease disaster risks.

“This flooding emphasizes the importance of preparedness,” said Guillermo Garcia, “as local residents are the first people to respond when disaster strikes.”

Preparedness activities include working with communities to better understand the risks that they face, developing community action plans such as evacuation routes and emergency shelters, and identifying cost-effective early warning systems to better predict and react to threats. Where possible, the Red Cross works to identify projects that reduce disaster risks, such as planting trees, building flood embankments, improving drainage systems or building hazard-resistant houses.

“Through our international programs, we have a long-term commitment to the well-being of communities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean,” added Garcia.

The American Red Cross also invests in strategically pre-positioning relief items for rapid deployment, provides disaster management trainings to build and maintain a roster of skilled disaster responders, and builds technical expertise in responders to better identify risks and predict events.

These disaster preparedness activities expand on the lessons and successes of a 3-country program in the Caribbean, which the American Red Cross recently completed. Funding from USAID/Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Merck Company Foundation hade made these disaster preparedness projects possible.

Regional disasters will invariably require response personnel, supplies and funding to meet humanitarian needs, but the American Red Cross works through long-term programs to decrease the vulnerability of thousands of people, and increase their ability to cope with and recover, from disasters in their community.

You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Donations to the International Response Fund can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.

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