MIAMI (Reuters) - For a second year in a row, the United States has escaped a severe hurricane hit, pushing memories of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans another notch into the past. But for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, the 2007 hurricane season ending on Friday has hardly been benign.
"No, not at all. The consequences for the poor have been very high," said Judy Dacruz, a representative in Haiti of the International Organization for Migration.
The 14 tropical storms that formed in the Atlantic this season killed more than 200 people in Martinique, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua and Mexico and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to often impoverished and vulnerable communities throughout the region. U.S. experts and media have labeled initial predictions the six-month season would be busier than normal "a bust" because only one weak hurricane struck the United States -- a far cry from 2005 when a record 28 storms formed, 15 of which strengthened into hurricanes, including Katrina. The 14 storms beat the long-term average of 10 per season while the number of hurricanes, five -- or six if you count Tropical Storm Karen which most weather experts expect will be posthumously upgraded -- is about normal. Yet most of the storms were perplexingly short-lived, lasting on average just 2.4 days, the lowest ratio since 1977, according to a noted hurricane season forecasting team at Colorado State University.
"Our 2007 seasonal hurricane forecast was not particularly successful. We anticipated an above-average season, and the season had activity at approximately average levels," Philip Klotzbach, Bill Gray and other CSU forecasters said in an end-of-season report on Tuesday. The CSU team had predicted there would be 17 storms this year.
In the Caribbean and Central America, though, few were breathing sighs of relief. In the Mexican town of Mahahual on the Yucatan Peninsula, Hurricane Dean destroyed a cruise ship pier which had been a key source of income. "Windows, doors, electrical systems -- except for the basic structure of the hotel, everything was destroyed by Dean," said Rodolfo Romero, owner of the boutique Hotel Arenas.
Dean, which became a maximum-strength Category 5 hurricane, killed at least 27 people as it roared through the Caribbean in August and struck the peninsula.
Hurricane Felix in September also became a Category 5 storm on the five-step scale of hurricane intensity, killing 102 and leaving another 133 missing in Nicaragua, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.
Dean and Felix were the first two Atlantic hurricanes since records began in 1851 to make landfall in the same season as Category 5 storms.
The last storm of the season, Noel, soaked the Dominican Republic and Haiti, killing more than 150 people as rivers broke their banks and surged through towns.
"It's been very busy, especially in Central America but also in the Caribbean," said Tim Callaghan, a senior official with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. "We have provided disaster assistance to Dominica, Belize, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico."
Even when no actual storm was swirling somewhere, unusually heavy rainfall characterized the wet season, washing away roads in Jamaica and flooding sugar fields in Cuba.
A rain-swollen river burst its banks at the end of October in Mexico, leaving four-fifths of Tabasco state under water and 800,000 homeless.
"The hurricane season was more intense this year on a regional level as there were states of alert in every country," said Walter Wintzer, director of the Guatemala-based CEPREDENAC center for disaster prevention in Central America.