The Astounding Travel Adventures of a Miraculous Fellow

The Coordinadora Responds to Hurricane Adrian with Efficiency and Compassion
June 7, 2008, 1:02 pm
Filed under: The Salvador




I am finally famous.  It came much sooner than expected, but hey, what can you do?  My (rather heavily edited – most of the cursing is noticably absent) account of the hurricane has been published on the bright lights of something called the “web”.  The original title was “Hurricane Adrian – A Blowhard Slapdick Akin to Thomas Jefferson”. I guess “Akin” didn’t translate well…because I wrote it…in English…and now…it’s…in…English.  Feel free to donate, or send money directly to me.  I promise it’ll get to those in need…in need for speeeeeed!   WOOOOO!!!!  Yikes.  Here is the article in its original published form:


At 3pm Thursday, I got the call to evacuate from Salinas del Potrero, the community where I am volunteering, and move to safer ground at the Coordinadora’s offices in Ciudad Romero. Initially, with little knowledge of any impending danger, the confusion of the situation was rather alarming, especially given that I had 5 minutes to gather my belongings and move. Having lived in California most of my life, I had never experienced a hurricane, and was not looking forward to dealing with one this far from home. These feelings of confusion and alarm disappeared once I witnessed the coordination and organization of the Coordinadora’s emergency personnel. The Coordinadora was founded in 1996 in response to the flooding they suffered every year in the Bajo Lempa region.  Created to help the people organize themselves more efficiently in the face of other disasters, their experience during 1998’s Hurricane Mitch greatly improved their ability to corrdinate and efficiently arrange immediate preventative action.  This fact became abundantly apparentl, for as soon as I gathered my belongings, we swung into action.


Before arriving at the Coordinadora’s offices in Ciudad Romero, Luis, Estela, two Coordinadora employees, and I went to Usulutan to buy emergency supplies. After purchasing rice, beans, corn meal for tortillas, salt, and sugar, we headed back to Ciudad Romero to join the rest of the group. By the time we arrived, the operation had long since begun.


The Coordinadora’s Ciudad Romero offices had been converted into a headquarters and command center for coordinating evacuation and emergency activities. The dorms provided shelter and beds for evacuated families.


The Coordinadora’s Executive Director, Aristides Valencia, was working with the leaders of the Grupos Locales – local community groups – to determine the severity of the situation in each of the communities. The overwhelming concern was the rising level of the water in the Rio Lempa which borders the area and was the main cause of the destruction during Hurricane Mitch. If the Lempa overflowed its bank, it would flood the entire region.


The Coordinadora also used its two-way emergency radio system to communicate with other communities in the Bajo Lempa region, as well as the National Emergency Committee. With these two radio systems, the Coordinadora efficiently monitored the situation and received quick alerts about unanticipated flooding in the area.


Along with the assistance of the personnel in Ciudad Romero, the Coordinadora was working with many different groups and communities to efficiently assess the situation, and evacuate anyone as quickly as possible if the need arose. Aristides Valencia and his team of staff and dedicated community volunteers, experts in disaster relief, worked tirelessly to organize trucks and buses to be ready for immediate evacuation of communities. Along with the transportation, the Comandos de Salvamento – a national rescue and relief group – arrived to take the team of technicians to evaluate the specific communities and their need for evacuation.




I was fortunate to witness the organization and efficiency of the Coordinadora in such an unexpected situation, while also getting the personal stories of those who had lived through Hurricane Mitch. In 1998, the mismanagement of the hydroelectric dam upstream caused the Lempa River to breach its banks unexpectedly, unbeknownst to the people in the region. Within little time, whole communities filled with water, while families slept unaware. The destruction of the Bajo Lempa region was immense: homes were destroyed, crops lost, and the precious livestock annihilated. Despite the destruction of Hurricane Mitch, the Coordinadora’s strong organization and preparation prevented the loss of any human life in the region, even while many died in other, less prepared, areas of the country.


By 5 P.M., the first evacuation was under way, and the trucks rumbled off to the community of Babylonia to remove the people to the safety of Jiquilisco, the nearest city. Within a short time, the Commandos de Salvamentos radioed Ciudad Romero to begin the evacuations of the communities of Armando Lopez, La Canoa, and Nuevo Amanacer. Soon, families were being transported to safety zones such as schools and churches that were better equipped to deal with the situation and get the people out of harm’s way.


In Ciudad Romero, many evacuees gathered to be transported by the trucks to the safety zones. Although the emergency personnel worked diligently without respite, they still found time to make coffee and feed the evacuees. While the process required efficiency and coordination amongst a considerable group of people and organizations, the human side of yet another disaster loomed large for these people. The humanity and compassion of the emergency workers was inspiring: they took time out to talk with their neighboring community members, provide food, water, coffee, extra blankets and mattresses for the refugees. These people were not just an efficient, well-trained, emergency organization preventing disaster; they had personally lived through it along with everyone in the Bajo Lempa region in 1998. For this reason, their attitudes and compassion towards the displaced was as impressive as their efficiency.


By the time the full force of Hurricane Adrian arrived, everyone who wanted to be evacuated was safely in shelters and away from danger. This time, if the Lempa River was not going to cooperate, the people would not be caught unaware. As the storm pounded away through the night, the work continued for the Coordinadora’s personnel. While I experienced the first hurricane of my life in an altogether distant and different country, my apprehension and nervousness waned while witnessing the expertise and efficiency of the emergency workers of the Coordinadora.


Although Hurricane Adrian has passed, the work of the Coordinadora has only just begun. Now begins the process of assessment and management of the damage from the storm. Many families will need funds and assistance with replanting crops, wells will have to be pumped and cleaned to decontaminate the drinking water, and drainage canals will have to be rebuilt. But, with the support of the Coordinadora and its outstanding organization, these people can rebuild the communities of the Bajo Lempa region, so the families and residents can, despite the existence of natural disasters, prosper in the future.


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