Monday, September 3, 2007

Hurricane Felix

Just something else that's on my mind right now - Category 5 Hurricane Felix, which is about 24-36 hours from making landfall in Honduras/Belize. Please keep people there in your prayers. It's a little stressful to me this evening when I checked the news for the first time in 2 or three days and saw a Category 5 when there was only a Tropical Depression the last time (and especially since it was just over a year ago that I was doing research for my thesis in this exact location). The forward speed of the storm is fast enough right now that flooding shouldn't be as much of a problem as it was with Mitch or Stan - which both caused catestrophic mudslides - barring a more southward track that would put it closer to the mountains and maybe make it slow down and stall out quicker. It will hopefully be mostly a wind event - and hopefully mostly only at the coast, a glancing blow to Honduras and a direct hit to Belize. People on the coast are a little better prepared, but still, Central America is very vulnerable to anything like this. (As if anywhere is NOT vulnerable to a Category 4/5 landfall). Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua (all in the storm's path) had 3 of the 5 worst rankings (along with Haiti and El Salvador) of the entire Caribbean in my Hurricane Vulnerability Index (the subject of my masters thesis - combining social vulnerability and climatological hurricane exposure). Judging by my research and the strength of this storm, I would expect at least several hundred casualties over the next few days - and a not insignificant impact on the local economy.

If you're not tracking hurricane season as closely as me, 2007 is now one of only 4 years on record in Atlantic basin history to have 2 or more Category 5 storms in a single season (with Hurricane Dean last week making landfall in Mexico) - and the first season ever (maybe in any basin) to have the first two hurricanes both reach Category 5. Next week is the halfway point (Sep. 15) and the climatological peak of the season. Lets hope the second half of the season has fewer intense storms...

UPDATE: 9/4/07 11AM CST
Hurricane Felix has made landfall along the Nicaraguan coast, and will cross into the mountains of Honduras within a few hours. After weakening slightly over the previous 12 hours, Felix re-strengthened to Category 5 just a few hours before landfall - making 2007 the first year in recorded history of the Atlantic basin (since 1886) to have two Category 5 hurricane landfalls in the same year. Even worse, the track shifted farther south and the storm has slowed down - a worst case scenario for inland flooding, of the type that killed 20,000 people in Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Let's hope COPECO (the Honduras government disaster response agency - established after Mitch) was prepared, and is coordinated to make an effective response.

We'll have to wait a few days to get the full damage toll - roads and bridges will be washed out, and people will be stranded in already isolated communities. In such a mountanous and rural country, it's impossible to know ahead of time which communities will need aid. But it looks like a significant amount of evacuations did take place - in areas of known risk, like the river markets in Tegucigalpa. On the coast, it looks like thousands more were evacuated, but in the area of Nicaragua where Felix made landfall - native people still practice a subsistence fishing livelihood on offshore islands - where the only shelter is wooden houses, and the only transport is in small wooden boats. Saving lives can't happen in the hours before the storm - preparations and planning take years (and money). The inital reports were that 90% of the tourists were evacuated, and only 20% of the indigenous people. While I don't expect the government to evacuate every single person in harms way (they don't have the capacity anyway) - it just shows that if you're poor, you're much more vulnerable in situations like this. Again, say a prayer that the impact of Felix is limited - cause I'm scared it won't be.


Les said...

Does not look good, we will pray, and know God will control it to his desire.

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