Heifer staff safe following Tropical Storm Agatha, eruption of volcano

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (June 1, 2010) – Heifer International country staff in Guatemala and Honduras are reported to be safe in the wake of Tropical Storm Agatha, which struck the Central American countries Saturday, May 29, killing nearly 200 people and displacing tens of thousands from their homes.

Heifer staff members in Ecuador are reported safe, too, following the eruption of the Tungurahua volcano on Saturday. The eruption sent ashes and lava into surrounding villages and closed Guayaquil’s airport for a time. The eruption was the second in Latin America in a week—the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala erupted Thursday killing at least two people and evacuating 1,600 villagers.

In Guatemala, Jonathan Guzmán, Heifer Guatemala country director said that Agatha “caused a lot of damage and misfortune, causing mudslides, sinkholes, flooding and the destruction of many bridges and roads.” Monday country staff removed sand and ash from the office in Guatemala City while others tried to visit nearby communities where Heifer is active to survey the damage.

All but one partner organization has been contacted by telephone. There are reports of lost livestock and crops in the affected areas. In the wake of Agatha and the volcanic eruption, hundreds of communities remain isolated as communication is intermittent and services such as electricity, gas and telephone are irregular.

In a preliminary report from Honduras, Marco Machado, Heifer Honduras country director, reports all staff and their families are safe but partner organizations in the south were affected by flooding. The Lempa River overflowed, affecting at least 20 villages, and a partner organization, SIMIENTE, reported the death of one man whose family participated in Heifer’s Integrated Farms with Gender Approach project (#23-0450-02).

Heifer began working in Guatemala in 1970, providing small livestock to families in remote rural areas that were affected by the country’s 36-year civil war. Projects promote agro-ecological practices, recover traditional knowledge and strengthen local organizations in the Petén, Huehuetenango, Alta Verapaz, El Quiché, Sololá, Chimaltenango, San Marcos and Jalapa regions.

Heifer’s projects in Honduras promote agro-ecology practices, promotion and access to local markets, micro-enterprise development, organizational strengthening, human nutrition and gender equity. Work is focused in the south-central and western parts of the country where most of the rural poverty is found. Most projects include a variety of resources such as dairy cattle, poultry, fish, beehives, seeds and training.

Heifer International’s Americas team remains in communication with staff in Guatemala and Honduras.