Nicaragua November 1998



Team Deployment

15 member rescue team

Hurricane Mitch was the most powerful hurricane and the most destructive of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, with maximum sustained winds of 180 mph (285 km/h).
Mitch formed in the western Caribbean Sea on October 22 and rapidly strengthened to peak at Category 5 status. Because of its slow motion from October 29 to November 3, Hurricane Mitch dropped historic amounts of rainfall in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, with unofficial reports of up to 75 inches (1,900 mm).


The following is a brief report from Willie McMartin, IRC’s Team Leader for the mission to Nicaragua and Honduras – November 1998.

A 15 strong team from all parts of Great Britain attended Nicaragua and areas within Honduras following the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch. This deployment was in response to a direct request from the Nicaraguan Ambassador in London and confirmation from the British Embassy in Managua that our attendance would be appropriate.

Waspam Main Dock

Searching the Rio Coco for survivors
IRC logistics specialists at work
IRC communications specialists set up a satellite centre
Spending time with those affected by any disaster is important for the healing process
Making a difference where it really counts

The team’s primary task was search and rescue, but they also helped in many other ways. The team carried with them, food, medical supplies and other essential goods.

After arrival, and following discussions with the Nicaraguan Authorities and the British Ambassador, it was agreed that the team should work on the North Atlantic Coast in the area of the Rio Coco. The town of Waspan was selected as a suitable base, allowing navigation both up and downstream. The initial leg of the journey was by fixed wing aircraft to Puerto Cabezas. Due to the immediate lack of helicopter transport, a section of 5 members with 2 inflatable boats moved to Waspan with instructions to start working downstream.

A co-ordination / co-operation meeting between the Nicaraguan Army, the Royal Marines pre-deployment assessment group and the International Rescue Corps was held. At this meeting some general tasking and work description was agreed. As a result of a request at this meeting, it was agreed that 1 team member and 1 of our 2 interpreters would remain at the army base in Puerto Cabezas. The remainder of the team and equipment then moved forward to Waspan.

The first section of the team worked downstream from Waspan covering an approximate distance of 40-50 kilometres. The second and larger section of the team worked upstream from Waspan covering an approximate distance of 85-100 kilometres. At times the team would sub-divide into three sections to cover the diversity of tasks required.

All sections carried out similar work, which included:

  • Medical help to those in need.
  • Medical assessment for longer term help.
  • Medical evacuation to Waspan Hospital of more serious cases.
  • Transportation of a doctor to an outlying area.
  • Water assessment including help in making wells useable.
  • Repatriation of members of outlying communities.
  • Help in salvage of building materials.
  • Food assessment.
  • Movement of livestock across the river.
  • Loading and unloading aid from lorries.
  • Loading and unloading aid from boats.
  • Loading and unloading aid from helicopters.
  • Supply of communications within remote areas.
  • Donation of food.
  • Donation of medical supplies.
  • Movement of overweight items.
  • Donation of two boats complete with outboard motors and ancillary equipment.
  • Donation of money for a boat hire which would enable a community to return to its former village location.
  • Setting up a distribution system within local warehousing.
  • Sorting out medical supplies for distribution as per remote small community requirements.
  • Cleaning and disposal of rubbish from the hospital in Waspan.
  • Repair to an electrical generator in an outlying area.
  • Attendance and active participation in co-ordination meetings. These meetings were between civilian and military groups.

IRC was also initially able to supply logistical help which included maps, GPS positions of sites, availability or not of helicopter landing sites and general details of river navigation.

Attending briefings to offer help and options was also undertaken.

The team was active within the following locations:

1.Puerto Cabezas
3.Tuskro Tara
4.Tuskro Sirpe
6.Santa Ana
8.San Jeronimo
9.Santa Fe

Date of deployment: November 3rd 1998
Date of return to UK: November 17th 1998

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