As the first major Atlantic hurricane of the season made landfall in Mexico today after wreaking havoc across the Caribbean region, United Nations officials are surveying the aftermath of the storm as well as the most critical needs of those affected.
Hurricane Dean has now weakened from a category 5 – the highest level for hurricanes – to a category 3 storm after striking the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico earlier today, UN Spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York.
“The United Nations Country Team is working with authorities to prepare the region for the hurricane,” she said, noting that some 530 storm shelters – with a capacity of 73,000 people – have been set up on the eastern part of the Yucatan. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also pre-positioned medicines, food, water and blankets.
The UN has sent Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams to Jamaica and Belize. A state of emergency had been declared in the southern part of Jamaica and some 6,500 people are temporarily living in 268 shelters. Preliminary findings reveal significant damage to roofs, storm surges, flooding, collapsed structures and impassable roadways throughout the country. There have also been reports of severe damage to power lines and to the water supply system.
UNICEF estimated that 90,000 children had been directly or indirectly affected in Jamaica alone. The agency had distributed hygiene kits, water purification tablets and water containers in anticipation of the hurricane.
UN agencies are assessing the situation in Haiti along with the UN mission in that country (MINUSTAH). The mission is also supporting urgent repair works and the distribution of water and food rations. Some 5,000 people were reported to be living in shelters, with 406 families affected, 244 homes destroyed and 111 houses damaged.
The hurricane, which has caused several deaths in the region so far, entered the eastern Caribbean on Friday, damaging rooftops and flooding streets in Saint Lucia, Dominica and Martinique.
“Thankfully the number of casualties has been remarkably low, despite the severity of Hurricane Dean,” stated UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.
“It demonstrates how well prepared the governments of the affected countries have been in advance of this disaster. However, given the level of economic devastation, recovery will be arduous and protracted, even under the best of circumstances,” Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, added.