“Unbelievably, things have gotten worse. We are evacuating all of the communities in the area, due to the releases of water from the upstream dam which are currently being made at over 9,500 cubic meters per second (cms). This is a quantity of water never before discharged along the Lempa River. The shelters are not equipped to handle the entire municipality, much less provide much-needed resources for so many people. There is so much going on, and so much destruction in the communities, we are working now just to understand the situation. Hopefully tomorrow we can understand better how to deal with a situation of this magnitude.”
This is from Estela Hernandez, President of the Mangrove Association, who has nearly 15 years of experience responding to natural disasters and floods in the Lower Lempa. She feels that this flood, caused by Tropical Depression 12E, has been exacerbated by a neighboring system off the Yucatan Peninsula, named Jova. Latest forecasts call for Jova to diminish in size and strength. However, rains are projected to continue in the Lower Lempa until sometime Wednesday.
Earthen levies along the Lempa River have been built to sustain flows upwards of 2,500 cms. The worst recorded flows on the Lempa River occurred in the spring of 2010, during Tropical Storm Agatha, where upstream dams discharged over 6,000 cms. 9,500 cms have never been anticipated, nor modeled for local, regional or national risk response plans and maps.
At least 500 people are currently cut off from communication in the communities in and around Sisiguayo, Nueva Esperanza, Salinas de Portero and el Angel. OxFam America has been able to provide limited supplies of clean, bottled drinking water and hygiene kits, which are currently a high priority in overcrowded shelters. Also, supplies are being sent from the Mayor’s office in Santa Tecla to communities in La Pita and Montecristo, at the mouth of the Lempa River, as directed by the Governors Office of Usulutan. Unfortunately, the trucks are unable to get access by land to these communities, and boat transportation is limited.
Families along the peninsula are cut off from ground transportation, and their only means of accessing these communities is by boat across the Bay, which can be cost prohibitive for many. In some communities like Isla Mendez, over 99% of the community has stayed behind, and Civil Protection Authorities have been unable to reach them by land. Currently, many of the fields and crops adjacent to the new high way on both sides are not draining naturally due to the newly paved and raised roadway. Initial estimates of crop loss are at least 60%.
According to a national newspaper article from early Tuesday morning, over 1,500 families have been evacuated from the Lower Lempa. The mayor of Jiquilisco, David Barahona, estimates that over 7,000 people are being attended to in at least 40 shelters, and that they are overwhelmed both by staffing and volunteers and their basic needs.
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