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Monday, November 9, 1998 Published at 14:55 GMT


British aid arrives in Honduras

This was the first of several Red Cross flights to Honduras

A British Red Cross plane filled with medicine has arrived in Honduras as aid workers try to prevent the spread of disease in the wake of Hurricane Mitch.

The BBC's Jon Brain: Some people are said to be starving
The Central American country and its neighbour, Nicaragua, have been devastated by the hurricane, which has left thousands dead.

[ image: Searching for supplies in flood-ravaged El Progreso, northern Honduras]
Searching for supplies in flood-ravaged El Progreso, northern Honduras
Red Cross workers have taken their first load of emergency relief supplies to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa in a DC8 plane.

Meanwhile a detachment of Royal Marines, based on the Navy's new helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, has begun work on the Honduras/Nicaragua border.

Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Thomas of the Royal Marines describes the situation in eastern Honduras
The taskforce is using its helicopters to get supplies to where they are needed most and is educating local people about ways of avoiding water-borne diseases.

A combined team of British civilians and military have set up a joint operation with the Nicaraguan army to help 30,000 people stranded by flood waters in the valley of the River Coco, which forms the border between Honduras and Nicaragua.

Our correspondent in Nicaragua, Peter Greste, says reports filtering out from the area suggest entire villages are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting after drinking floodwater.

[ image: The Nicaraguan village of Billwuin has been inundated with water]
The Nicaraguan village of Billwuin has been inundated with water
He says there are reports of children passing blood and families beginning to starve after being cut off when the Coco rose 15 metres above its typical wet season high.

The swollen river is now almost three kilometres wide in some places.

Threat of disease

Aid workers say at least 40,000 people in the Central American region remain cut off by floods and survivors now face the threat of disease from polluted water and lack of food and shelter.

The British Red Cross cargo is worth £150,000.

On board is Ian Heigh, an emergency response manager, who is helping distribute the supplies.

Speaking before landing, he said: "These supplies are absolutely vital.

[ image: Ian Heigh: Supplies only a short-term solution]
Ian Heigh: Supplies only a short-term solution
"The Honduran Red Cross have told us what they need and this is why we are flying out. Their workers know the area and the people most in need and I will be helping them to distribute the supplies."

He added: "This is without doubt the worst natural disaster to hit Central America this century. These supplies are obviously a very short-term solution. Once we have solved the immediate problems of water, food and shelter, we will have to start looking at the long-term situation."

The supplies include:

  • More than 18,000 collapsible water containers.

  • Six emergency medical kits, each containing drugs, ointments, antibiotics, dressings and instruments capable of providing medical support to 10,000 people for three months.

  • 1,750,000 water purification tablets, capable of purifying more than half a million gallons of water.

The UK Government has already pledged £200,000 to the British Red Cross relief fund.

The BBC's Tom Gibb reports on aid distribution efforts in Honduras
All the main relief agencies have joined together to form a Disaster Emergency Committee to deal with the huge scale of the disaster.

The flight is the first of several organised by the British Red Cross to Honduras and other Central American countries over the coming weeks.

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