A Message from Tipper Gore
The people of Central America have suffered a disaster of Biblical
proportions. The pace of their recovery depends, to a large measure,
on what we as their neighbors do to help them, and on the long-term
involvement of the international community.
Less than a week ago, I led a Presidential Delegation to Central
America to witness firsthand the devastation that has resulted
from Hurricane Mitch. The scale of the disaster is beyond anything
we have ever witnessed. Some claim that this may be the worst
natural disaster in recorded history. The human toll from this
disaster is immense -- more than ten thousand lives lost and more
than one million people homeless. No one in Central America has
been untouched by this tragedy.
Our Delegation, which included Senators Chris Dodd, Jeff Bingaman
and Mary Landrieu and Representatives Gary Ackerman, Jim Kolbe
and Xavier Becerra, along with USAID Administrator Brian Atwood,
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jack Leonard, and Atlanta
Braves player Dennis Martinez, a native Nicaraguan, flew into
Tegucigalpa, Honduras and went to visit one of the harder hit
Before the storm, the Manuel Bonilla School served the entire
community -- when we arrived, it was ankle-deep in mud. We worked
side by side with the community leaders and the Delegation members
of the Delegation to clean up the school so it could be used as
a medical facility. That night, I slept in a tent pitched at a
shelter in the Japon School, which housed families whose homes
and even neighborhoods had been totally lost. They spoke of when
the storm hit. Many had no warning and were caught by surprise.
It came so fast that many were trapped in their homes with water
up to their chests, trying to escape. I met a woman in the shelter
who was six months pregnant and another who was grandmother caring
for her grandchildren. They had lost everything. I met a blind
man who barely got out in time. They are now living in one large
room, sleeping on mats. Disease is rampant.
The next day in Managua, I visited Ciudad Sandino, a refugee
site for more than 1,000 men, women and children whose homes along
the river bank are completely destroyed. The conditions they are
living in are unimaginable. The government has given them one
large plot of land which is divided into small parcels -- one
per family. Their only shelter is made from sheets of plastic.
One small stream trickles through the area, but it is contaminated.
They're experiencing outbreaks of both cholera and malaria. They
biggest concerns right now are food, water, and medicine.
In both Honduras and Nicaragua, even though the sheer enormity
of this tragedy was difficult to comprehend, I was struck by the
strength and spirit of the people. They are not defeated. They
are cleaning up their homes and rebuilding their lives. In Honduras,
community leaders have mobilized to help those most in need and
to get food and water to the outlying areas. In the make-shift
shelters in Managua, many people had tape measures and were measuring
foundations for new walls they will build when the materials are
available. You can see that this disaster has destroyed their
homes -- but not their spirits. They will survive. And we will
stand with them as they do so.