Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne called on national and local authorities in countries at risk for hurricanes to prepare for the 2021 hurricane season. She warned that COVID-19 and the potential devastation of high winds and flooding make preparation even more critical than usual.
Dr. Etienne said: “We must safeguard our countries and territories against the dual threat of COVID-19 and the hurricane season. We must ensure that health services are fully operational to save lives and protect the well-being of populations before, during and after hurricanes. We must also make sure that emergency care, hospitalization, ICU beds, laboratories, and quarantine and isolation centers are protected and functional.”
June 1 marked the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, which is forecasted to have a 60% chance of above-normal activity, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The forecast is for 13 to 20 named storms, including 6 to 10 hurricanes and 3 to 5 major hurricanes.
PAHO is working to provide emergency supplies and assist in securing critical facilities in countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
On June 10 PAHO will hold a preparedness meeting with representatives from the disaster coordination agencies of all countries in the Americas. The online meeting to identify resources and adjust preparedness and readiness plans will include panelists from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), NOAA´s National Hurricane Center, the Coordination Center for Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America (CEPREDENAC, per its Spanish initials), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency – CDEMA, and the Ministry of Health of Guatemala.
On May 20 and 21, PAHO met with disaster management officials from seven Central American countries and the Dominican Republic to analyze the main disaster risk reduction needs.
Dr. Etienne urged officials, particularly those in the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, and northern South America, to update national hurricane response plans and conduct simulation exercises.
She said: “Countries should refine evacuation plans, taking into consideration additional measures for physical distancing and extra hygiene and sanitation in shelters. She urged countries to strengthen health care services by ensuring that surge staff and essential supplies and protective equipment will be readily available when needed. These measures and actions are especially important for countries and territories still suffering the consequences of the highly destructive 2020 hurricane season.”
Dr. Ciro Ugarte, PAHO’s Director of Health Emergencies, stated: “Hurricanes ETA and IOTA in 2020 affected 9.9 million people and did considerable damage to medical infrastructure especially in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Colombia. Between last year’s storms and the ongoing pandemic, preparedness and risk reduction activities are more critical than ever.”
In the past few weeks, most countries in Central America have reported surges in COVID-19 cases, and many Caribbean countries and territories have also reported spikes.