MAF is providing ongoing disaster relief to Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala following last month’s devastation caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Over nine million people have been affected - MAF has been flying in food, medicine, doctors, counsellors and sanitation experts as part of their emergency response…
Following Eta - a category 4 hurricane, which hit Central America on 3 November - MAF’s Disaster Response Team quickly facilitated medevacs, search and rescue flights and food aid delivery. Less than two weeks later on 16 November, another category 4 hurricane - Iota, wreaked havoc down the same path.
Where Eta decimated crops that were ready for harvest, Iota caused extensive flood damage and mudslides. It’s feared that catastrophic crop loss could lead to food insecurity in the coming months.
In response, MAF joined forces with AGAPE (MAF affiliate in Guatemala), Alas de Socorro (MAF affiliate in Mexico) and international Christian charity, Samaritan’s Purse. Four aircraft, and ten MAF staff are currently operating in the region in a bid to help thousands of people rebuild their lives.
‘Any large hurricane is devastating, but to have a second follow just over a week later, can easily destroy any remaining hope for those whose homes or crops survived the first. The wind and floods did tremendous damage - there’s a great need to help people in these three countries.’
David Holsten, MAF US CEO
To date, this epic joint relief operation has spanned 18 destinations, comprised of over 150 flights, supported 21 organisations, carried 280 passengers, notched up over 240 flight hours and delivered nearly 46,000 lbs of cargo (mostly food) to the neediest areas.
21 lives have been lost and 1,800,000 Nicaraguans have been affected (UNICEF). Nearly 44,000 homes have either been totally or partially destroyed. This country has suffered nearly £550 million in damages (Reuters).
Hurricane Iota hit Nicaragua on 16 November with winds up to 200 mph. Storm surges were reportedly 20 feet high.
Despite initial coronavirus concerns, MAF eventually obtained permission from the Nicaraguan government to operate in their country. On 21 November, MAF flew in their Kodiak aircraft from US headquarters in Nampa. Alas de Socorro’s Cessna 206 aircraft followed, and emergency flying began on 25 November.
Aerial survey flights with government officials were conducted over southern Nicaragua, which revealed significant coastal damage and destruction alongside a riverbank 40 miles inland.
Puerto Cabezas Hospital on the east coast of Nicaragua is struggling with the sheer demand for its services. In response, MAF and Alas de Socorro are conducting relief flights transporting doctors, nurses, medical equipment and antimalarials.
Additional flights carrying food packages, medical supplies and equipment have been delivered to a clinic, orphanage and fire station respectively.
On 1 December, eight Nicaraguan pastors flew to the hardest hit areas to train 63 local pastors in trauma counselling. When people lose everything, the need for counselling is great.
A relief operation like this is not without its challenges. Aviation fuel is currently only available in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua - 200 nautical miles from the coast. Refuelling is a significant distance from the disaster zone.
Requests for MAF’s assistance in Nicaragua is ongoing. In the coming days, MAF - in partnership with the Moravian Church - will deliver over 3,300 lbs of food and clothing to coastal communities.
99 lives have been lost and more than four million Hondurans have been affected (UNICEF). Over 150,000 people have lost their homes. Nearly 300 roads have been ruined and 80 bridges have either been destroyed or damaged (BBC).
Just as MAF began their relief efforts in Honduras, Hurricane Iota was forecast to hit Nicaragua on 16 November. MAF moved their operations to La Ceiba in the north to wait out the second storm. AGAPE’s Cessna 185 and Cessna 206 aircraft had to be tied down inside a large hangar.
Once the second storm had passed and the weather cleared, MAF resumed flying on 18 November to assess the damage in Honduras and on the Nicaraguan border. This enabled MAF to plan more aid delivery.
Where dykes have collapsed, flooding is particularly bad in the coastal area between the cities of La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras. Many villages, crops and houses located near the River Ulua are two feet underwater leaving people destitute and homeless. Some local health centres have also been destroyed.
Many residents have taken to living in tents along the roadside, others are taking refuge in towns on higher ground. Over 90,000 people are living in temporary shelter (UNICEF).
Communities in eastern Honduras are reportedly cut off - the few roads they have are now impassable and bridges have been destroyed. Many crops have also been ruined.
AGAPE’s aircraft have primarily been delivering emergency supplies or ‘manna packs’ to evacuees in remote areas along the Mosquito Coast. AGAPE have been working in partnership with the Moravian Church and MAG. Over 300 food boxes have been delivered to Ahuas, Rus Rus and Puerto Limpira.
MAF Pilot, Nick Frey, is part of MAF’s Disaster Response Team and has been helping to coordinate logistics with Samaritan’s Purse (SP) who have been operating their Bell 206 helicopter in the area. SP has been flying in medical teams, water specialists and water purification equipment by helicopter into areas, which cannot be reached by road. SP’s helicopter can reach places, which cannot be accessed by MAF’s fixed-wing aircraft.
Given that local residents are in desperate need of clean drinking water since the hurricanes struck, five water purification systems are being set up in key villages and towns. Each water system can filter around 10,000 litres per day, which provides enough daily drinking water for up tp 2,000 people.
On 28 November, MAF and Samaritan’s Purse moved their operations to a new base - San Pedro Sula, which is a three-hour drive from La Ceiba.
Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport in San Pedro Sula is closed due to flooding, but the military runway next to it is open as it’s on higher ground. AGAPE’s two aircraft have been parked there.
At first, getting hold of aviation fuel was difficult but following talks with the military, more fuel has been obtained.
During this massive relief operation, MAF has been blessed with free use of tools from local DIY stores, free use of a local hangar and a free helipad for the helicopter.
Samaritan Purse’s field hospital and medical team are based near the airport. Given that some community health centres have been destroyed, SP has been seeing over 100 patients per day. SP plan to stay in the area at least until February, by which time the situation will have hopefully improved.
Eta and Iota have claimed 61 lives and over two million Guatemalans have been affected (UNICEF). Crops that had sustained tens of thousands of families, have been destroyed (Reuters).
Following Hurricane Eta, the worst-hit area was Guatemala's central Alta Verapaz region, where mudslides buried dozens of homes (BBC).
There has also been substantial flooding in northern Guatemala.
AGAPE’s Cessna 185 and Cessna 206 aircraft are primarily delivering food relief to isolated areas in greatest need. These family food packs consist of rice, beans, oil, noodles and a high protein supplement.
On 7 November, AGAPE staff at La Aurora International Airport loaded aircraft with food packs destined for northern Guatemala following the devastation caused by Hurricane Eta:
AGAPE has also been facilitating medevacs, evacuations and search and rescue flights in an area where one village collapsed during a landslide.
There have been challenges obtaining aviation fuel from local suppliers, but fortunately friends of MAF are kindly making up the shortfall.
Please pray for:
The people of Central America who have experienced much pain and suffering.
Stamina and safety for MAF and partners’ Disaster Response Team.
Good information about aviation fuel availability and airstrip conditions.
The removal of red tape and making the right connections at the right time.