On May 26, 2010 heavy rainfall marked hurricane season’s first occurrence, Tropical Depression (TD) Agatha, began in Guatemala and El Salvador causing enormous sink holes in downtown Guatemala City and triggering floods and mudslides in two thirds of the country’s municipalities. Many public schools were converted into temporary shelters for the homeless.
Late on the afternoon of May 27 – Pacaya Volcano, one of the three active volcanoes, erupted 25 miles south of Guatemala City and spread ash, sand, gravel and fist-sized rocks for miles. The volcanic eruption covered the City with up to an inch of debris.
These incidents provide a good overview of what happens in a disaster: U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen G. McFarland issued a disaster declaration and requested emergency humanitarian assistance from USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). The United States was one of the first nations to pledge support with $100,000 that USAID’s Guatemala Mission used to locally purchase emergency relief supplies including food rations, fuel for emergency response vehicles and helicopter time to conduct need assessments. USAID/Guatemala is working with Guatemala’s National Emergency Commission and USAID/OFDA’s assessment team and food security program partners to assess the need for further assistance.
Within hours, a seven-person OFDA assessment team was on a plane. They work closely with U.S. Mission Disaster Relief Officer, Guatemala’s National Emergency Commission officials and other humanitarian groups to coordinate U.S. assistance. The Department of Defense’s U.S. Southern Command mobilized four helicopters and 40 troops that were brought in from Honduras to support evacuations, search and rescue efforts, and transport of emergency supplies to affected areas of Guatemala.
Every year, OFDA responds to more than 80 disasters at the request of countries around the world. OFDA operates on the principle that in fragile states, a disaster—even a small one—can drain already limited resources. That’s why the United States is there to help when people need it most.