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Dealing with disaster << back to introduction 

Hurricane Mitch

Date: 27 October 1998, Central America
Dead: 19,000
Homeless: 2.7m
Damage: $5.4bn

What happened: Hurricane Mitch, one of the most deadly Atlantic storms in history, tore across central America causing flooding and landslides. Nicaragua and Honduras bore the brunt. Development in some countries was set back by decades.

Response: Although forecasters had predicted the hurricane, the West only responded after the event. It took a week for large-scale food aid to arrive. Reports from Nicaragua said people were clinging to treetops for days after the rains had stopped. International debt repayments were suspended and the US put together a multi-million dollar aid package. Former President George Bush stressed it was in America’s interest to help in order to prevent a huge tide of economic migrants heading for the US.

Verdict: The initial response from the West was slow - major aid from the US did not arrive in Honduras until 8 November. Aid agencies said the effectiveness of aid was undermined by crippling debt repayments. Central American countries admitted environmental degradation had exacerbated the disaster.

Media coverage: There was extensive television and press coverage of the aftermath of the hurricane, and the progress of the storm was closely followed on a number of websites.