Washington -- U.S.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the situation
in hurricane-stricken Guatemala is "heartbreaking."
In an October 11 statement, the U.S. Department
of Defense said Rumsfeld had spent the previous few days
monitoring disaster-relief operations in both Guatemala
and Pakistan, which were hit by natural disasters leading
to significant loss of life. In early October, Hurricane
Stan pounded Central America with high winds and heavy rains.
On October 8, a massive earthquake created
devastation along the India-Pakistan border.
Rumsfeld said that on the weekend before
October 11, "I did nothing but phone calls and secure
videos on Pakistan and Guatemala" in order to evaluate
relief efforts in those two countries.
The Defense Department said the United States
has sent nine helicopters to Guatemala, which was hit by
Hurricane Stan October 4. Another six helicopters are expected
in the region in coming days, while four C-130 aircraft
are airlifting emergency supplies into devastated areas.
Supplies being airlifted to Guatemala include food, water,
plastic sheeting and medical supplies.
Rumsfeld also dispatched a senior U.S. general
to assess relief efforts in Guatemala. Bantz Craddock, commander
of the U.S. Southern Command, arrived in Guatemala October
9, where he assessed the preparedness of the Guatemalan
military to help in the disaster-relief efforts. Craddock
estimated the United States would be involved in disaster-relief
operations in Guatemala for at least 30 days.
The department said the scope of the disaster
in Guatemala is overwhelming capabilities to get aid to
remote, mountainous areas of the country. The need for helicopters
is particularly great in areas where bridges have been wiped
out, often cutting off the only means to reach isolated
villages, according to Defense.
Heavy rains and severe flooding from Hurricane
Stan led to mudslides that claimed entire villages in remote
areas of Guatemala. Other areas, which suffer from extreme
poverty during normal conditions, are cut off completely
from food and other aid, according to the department. In
many areas, homes have been washed away, leaving any survivors
exposed to heavy rain and chilly temperatures.
Officials estimate that this is the worst
natural disaster to hit Central America since Hurricane
Mitch killed up to 10,000 people in 1998.
Rumsfeld is hosting an October 12-13 meeting
in Key Biscayne, Florida, of Central American defense and
security ministers. The Defense Department said the meeting's
main topics include disaster relief, United Nations peacekeeping
operations and regional security concerns, such as terrorism
and narcotics trafficking, and implementation of the U.S.-Central
American Free Trade Agreement.
The secretary said the Central American
countries are making good progress on cooperative efforts
to deal with natural disasters and other security concerns
affecting them and the United States. The problems of hostage
taking, narcotics and terrorists are a mutual concern of
the United States and Central America, said Rumsfeld.
For more on U.S. policy in the region, see
Washington File Staff Writer