Mitch Mauls Central America

Army Rushes Urgent Aid to Sonsonate in Nicaragua


TEAMWORK–Salvationists and volunteers load donations from the Nicaraguan Embassy. Major Michael Sharp (center), divisional commander of Costa Rica/El Salvador, who is serving as operations director, is assisting.

by Sue Schumann Warner – 

Called the ‘worst disaster in the hemisphere,’ Hurricane Mitch left a trail of death and devastation as it tore across Central America, killing an estimated 10,000 and leaving up to two million homeless. Nearly 13,000 are missing.

Reeling in its wake, victims in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are seeking food, shelter, and medicine as they dig out of mud and rubble. Honduras, the hardest hit, suffered thousands dead or missing and 60 percent of its infrastructure has been destroyed.

The Salvation Army is providing aid to victims throughout the region, with volunteer workers and medical teams from the U.S. joining local Salvationists in distributing food, medicine, and other supplies.

“This critical situation is being met with a partnership response here in Central America, and also with the compassion of a world, as it looks on with a sense of fear and awe,” stated Colonel Robin Forsyth, territorial commander Latin America North.

Western officer Lt. Colonel Jerry Gaines, who serves as Latin America North territorial financial secretary, reported that in Nicaragua, a team of Salvation Army officers and a volunteer medical team have departed for Sonsonate (an area that has had the largest loss of life) with two five-ton trucks plus two four-wheel drive trucks and a canteen. “The government has advised us that the team must come totally self-sufficient,” said Gaines. “That includes having our own fuel for the vehicles, tents, food, power generators and medical supplies, as well as the items that will be dispensed to hurricane victims.” When the team arrives near Sonsonate, the Nicaraguan government will fly the team and supplies to the final destination by helicopter. Special visas were given to team members by the government so they can travel throughout the country.

In El Salvador, the government has assigned the Army to an area where Salvationists and volunteers are distributing rice, beans, water, chlorine tablets and diapers. In Costa Rica, approximately 8,000 families have been displaced by the floods from the hurricane and approximately 5,000 people have been given aid, including food, transportation to safe areas and shelter by The Salvation Army. A team of US volunteers formed by SAWSO will provide assistance in Honduras, with bilingual officers from the Latin America North Territory providing leadership.

The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) has been operating a health and welfare service that provides information to families regarding their loved ones. They also transmit valuable logistical data regarding decimated infrastructure and emergency needs.

“Due to the extreme magnitude of this disaster, we must try to focus on individual needs amid the great loss of life and suffering,” said Major David Dalberg, national disaster services coordinator.

The Army has activated a disaster response phone number: 1-800-SAL-ARMY. Contributions may be made through this number by Master Card, Visa or American Express. Checks should be marked “Disaster Relief-Hurricane Mitch” and sent to local Salvation Army units. At this time, donations for clothing or food are not being accepted.

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