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Defense Secretary Sends Top Commander to Assess Guatemalan Relief Efforts

Rumsfeld laments situation in hurricane-stricken Guatemala

Posted: October 12, 2005

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 Central America.

Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

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