International Operation Name: CENTRAL
International Mission Name: CENTRAL
Mandating Organization: Government of Canada
Region Name: Central America
Mission Date: 6 November 1998 - 23 December 1998
Canadian Forces (CF) Information (CENTRAL)
Canadian Task Force Mission Statement: To provide humanitarian assistance to hurricane survivors in Honduras.
CF Mission/Operation Notes: A tropical depression made its appearance south of Jamaica on 22 October 1998. Over the course of the next two weeks, this little depression would become one of the deadliest and most devastating hurricanes on record in the western hemisphere. As the depression moved westward it became a hurricane on the 24th. Hurricane Mitch then rapidly increased in strength, becoming a Category 5 storm. As Mitch approached Honduras, it slowed down.
From the 27th to the 31st Mitch was either off the coast of Honduras, or over the Honduran landmass where it caused flash floods and mudslides. Battering itself against the land, Mitch weakened to a tropical depression, but gained strength as it moved into the Gulf of Mexico and on to Florida.
In Honduras, Mitch killed an estimated 10,000 people, injured 11,000, left 12,000 missing and over 1.4 million homeless. More than 70,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, as were 92 bridges, while roads and rail lines suffered extensive damage. With the water and power infrastructure damaged and communications cut-off, millions of people were isolated without any source of food, fuel, medicine or water. Over half of all agriculture was also destroyed.
Canada’s response, ordered on 6 November, was Operation CENTRAL, the first deployment of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). Deployment started on 9 November and was completed by the 15th. Supporting DART was a headquarters element, a helicopter detachment, an Airfield Security Force and a Military Air Movements Section. Over one week, CF Hercules conducted 30 flights to deploy the DART, while a CF Airbus flew down humanitarian aid and Canadian media. The Canadian headquarters established itself at La Ceiba, a regional transportation and distribution hub. DART established itself at Soneguerra, a city close to the Rio Aguan Valley, one of the hardest hit areas of the country.
Once on the ground, the headquarters element began coordinating DART’s efforts with that of the Honduran Ministry of Health, local medical relief committees and the Standard Fruit Company. The headquarters Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) cell was soon busy matching aid providers with local agencies requiring assistance. DART’s medical team soon discovered a problem once deployed – the ruined transportation infrastructure limited the number of people who could attend the team’s clinic. The solution was to create smaller clinics in remote areas and to use the helicopters to transport medical staff to various locations, as well as to conduct medical evacuations. Over the course of the mission, the medical team treated over 7500 patients. The medical team also coordinated an insect counter-measures project with the Honduran Ministry of Health.
The Helo Det, consisting of 79 individuals from 427 Squadron, operated four CH-146 Griffon helicopters from La Ceiba. Over the course of the operation, they flew 223 missions, transporting 782 people and delivering 180 tons of humanitarian aid.
Besides building the Canadian camp, the engineers participated in 19 community rehabilitation projects. More importantly, the Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit provided clean water that was bagged by the engineers and then delivered to needy areas. The engineers also assisted in rebuilding roads and restoring water supplies. The Mobile Air Movements Section team, located at La Ceiba, unloaded over 700 tons in the first ten days, mostly DART equipment and supplies. After that they were busy unloading up to 200 tons of aid per day and establishing an effective distribution system. This was a vital role as international aid flooded into the country. The 30-man MP platoon provided security for the helicopters, having been so tasked as the Honduran government had expected looting after the disaster. The MPs used their off-duty time to clean and repair a local school.
With the disaster-assistance phase completed, the Honduran and international focus became one of reconstruction. DART operations were concluded on 12 December. All personnel were redeployed to Canada by 23 December. Responsibilities were turned over to Honduran and non-governmental organizations and the Canadian International Development Agency. Overall, almost 300 CF personnel were deployed to Honduras.
Aerials of terrain in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch tore through the area.
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