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Hurricane Felix Assessment Team Arrives in Nicaragua

By Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua, Sept. 7, 2007 – A 13-person hurricane assessment team from Joint Task Force Bravo and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance arrived here Sept. 5 to begin surveying damage following landfall of Hurricane Felix.

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074 Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, Army Forces commander at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, surveys damage in the wake of Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua on Sept. 5. Jicha is commander of a 13-person task force that deployed to Nicaragua to assess damage from the storm. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF
  

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The team deployed from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, as soon as the weather allowed, and made a quick stop for fuel in the capital city of Managua. There, a military doctor and civil affairs officer remained behind to assist the American embassy in determining immediate needs of the country.

The CH-47 Chinook helicopter then transported the remaining members of the assessment team and 10 members of the Nicaraguan National Police Special Brigade’s search-and-rescue team to Puerto Cabezas.

Upon arrival in Puerto Cabezas, the assessment team was greeted by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who expressed his thanks for their efforts during his country’s time of need.

Army Staff Sgt. Melvin Fleming, with the U.S. Embassy’s Defense Attache office in Managua, said reports came in that the northern coast had been hit badly. “There have been initial reports of up to 80 percent damage to the infrastructure along the Atlantic Coast,” he said.“There is no desperation, but they are asking for aid. They need our help in getting (the relief) there.”

The assessment team flew missions throughout the remote northeastern portion of the country yesterday to assess damage sustained from the storm. Most of their flight was recorded with an automated route recon kit, which captures video, still images and global positioning system coordinates to a laptop computer.

“Right now, we’re just providing an assessment of the damage that was sustained,” said Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, commander of the task force here with the mission. “We will take the imagery … and provide it to the Embassy here, U.S. Southern Command headquarters, and back to Joint Task Force Bravo for them to make the determination of what is needed in the region.”

Jicha is currently visiting with the American Ambassador to Nicaragua to review the video and photos taken during the flight.

In addition to the civil affairs officer and doctor, the assessment team also has communications specialists, engineers, command-and-control officers, and a member of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, who will help coordinate the U.S. government’s response to the humanitarian emergency. The assessment team is living in a makeshift camp just off the air strip where they landed.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs is assigned to Joint Task Force Bravo Public Affairs.)

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Related Sites:
Joint Task Force Bravo
U.S. State Department Country Background Note on Nicaragua

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Capt. Jon-Paul Lavandeira (left) and Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, both assigned to Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, greet Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in a media frenzy after arriving at a small airfield in Managua, Nicaragua, Sept. 5. The Army officers are part of a 13-person task force that deployed to assess damage from the storm. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Capt. Jon-Paul Lavandeira and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heather Prater, both engineers assigned to Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, take aerial video from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to document damage caused by Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua. The two service members are part of a 13-person task force deployed here for hurricane damage assessment. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, commander of a 13-person task force in Nicaragua from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, reviews a map with Army Lt. Col. Robert Gaddis, of U.S. Military Group Nicaragua, and Ramon Arnesto, director of the Nicaraguan federal emergency management agency, prior to an assessment flight over areas of the country affected by Hurricane Felix. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Jose Virella, assigned to 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, explains emergency aircraft procedures to members of the Nicaraguan National Police Special Brigade's search-and-rescue team after landing in Managua, Nicaragua, Sept. 5. Virella arrived with a hurricane assessment team following landfall of Hurricane Felix. The 13-person team deployed to Nicaragua to assess damage caused by the storm and to determine the extent of relief efforts needed in the country. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF  
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