After the Floods, a Tide of Help the World Responds to Central America's Hurricane Mitch Disaster as If to the Family Next Door

By Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 25, 1998 | Go to article overview

After the Floods, a Tide of Help the World Responds to Central America's Hurricane Mitch Disaster as If to the Family Next Door


Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Hurricane Mitch is described in many ways: the deadliest hurricane of the century, the storm that set back Central America three or four decades.

But in the end Mitch might be remembered as the first big hurricane to strike the global village.

"For us this was not some abstract problem, this was a disaster that hit our brothers," says Ronnie Dennis, a farmer and electrician from Durant, Okla. He's in Esteli, Nicaragua, distributing $18,000 in aid from his area's Churches of Christ. After six years of evangelical work in hard-hit northern Nicaragua, he says, "our folks received the call for help like it was coming from family." The global focus on the region has hardly abated a month after Mitch killed more than 11,000 people, uprooted hundreds of thousands more, and destroyed much of the transportation, other infrastructure, and agricultural production in Honduras, Nicaragua, and, to a lesser extent, neighboring countries. At macro and micro levels, aid continues to pour in from, for example: * Countries announcing large aid packages and debt relief. * A Canadian church group bringing in water purifiers. * And schoolchildren in Washington and Mexico City collecting coins for the distressed southern neighbors they've never met. "There's an outpouring that certainly reflects something coming from the heart," says Hugh Byrne, policy analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group that last week sent a letter to President Clinton calling for even more US assistance than the $250 million already announced. "It's a sign of the varied interests in the area." Intense media coverage of the disaster is another key factor, according to everyone from a Japanese official in Tokyo to a French soldier coordinating his country's relief distribution in Managua. In particular, wide coverage of a deadly mudslide caused by the rim collapse of Nicaragua's Casita volcano gave a regionwide disaster a heartbreaking, human focus. "We had a 20th-century Pompeii right here in Nicaragua, and that caught the attention of the world," says Lino Gutierrez, US ambassador in Managua. That calamity had an especially strong impact far away in Bloomington, Ind., which has a sister city relationship with Posoltega at the foot of Casita (story below). Ideological leanings often affected the ties that developed between Central America and other parts of the world during cold- war- era civil wars in the '80s. Today's relationships are more humanitarian and developmental in nature, says Ambassador Gutierrez - but no less intense. Emigration has resulted in large communities of Central Americans outside their region, particularly in the US, he adds. "There's a sense this happened to neighbors, more than if something similar struck Brazil and certainly more than China or Bangladesh," says Lisa Haugaard, legislative coordinator with the Latin America Working Group in Washington. …

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