Uruguayan Army Supports Civilians During Weather Emergencies

The Uruguayan Army contributes to aid and evacuation efforts for people affected by severe weather conditions.
Carlos Maggi/Diálogo | 6 December 2017

The Uruguayan Army develops plans and protocols to be implemented when necessary—during weather emergencies, for example. (Photo: Uruguayan Army)

Between June and September 2017, the Uruguayan Army supported civilians affected by heavy rains in the country. The area of operation included the departments of Montevideo, Canelones, Durazno, San José, Lavalleja, Maldonado, and Florida. The population received military assistance with evacuation, transport, tent installation at campsites, and food.

The Army deployed a basic unit to each of the country's 19 departments. Each unit had two organizational sections, allowing service members to respond to the subsidiary mission: to provide aid to civilians under severe weather situations. In total, 10 percent of the number of troops from each military unit participated—their numbers could be increased if necessary. The Army also provided equipment such as vehicles, tents, light generators, field kitchens, and mobile clinics.

“Unfortunately, tornadoes, heavy winds, floods, fires, and different cases of health-risk emergencies occur more frequently in our country,” Uruguayan Army Colonel Wilfredo Paiva, chief of the Social Communication Department, told Diálogo. “Our force participates in the evacuation of the affected population and their belongings, food preparation, and debris removal, among other tasks to contribute support in solidarity with the population that needs it most in times of distress. It’s imperative for the state to come as quickly as possible.”

The Army owes its promptness, efficiency, and effectiveness in support of subsidiary missions to the force's training and education for their main national defense mission. “The mission is fulfilled for the sake of our fellow countrymen who are in a vulnerable state, and we are pleased to provide this help when it’s most needed, being appreciated in each of these opportunities,” Col. Paiva said. “It’s important to say that on many occasions we have troops affected by severe weather, yet they help their neighbors, evacuating them or bringing them food prepared in the barracks.”

On April 15th, 2016, a devastating tornado struck the Uruguayan town of Dolores, in the department of Soriano. The Army was the first state institution to arrive and the last to leave—a total of 75,000 man-hours worked. The three-minute tornado was the second most devastating in the country's history. It left six dead, almost half the population of Dolores was injured, and millions of dollars’ worth of material losses.

Heavy rains cause rivers and streams to overflow, forcing people who live along the riverfront to evacuate their homes in search of shelter. The Army's support is essential in evacuating those affected. (Photo: Uruguayan Army)

Less than one hour after the tornado, 80 troops from Infantry Battalion No. 5, located 38 kilometers from the event, showed up. “The troops completed different tasks such as assisting the victims, evacuating to healthcare centers, removing debris, deterring criminal activities, and preparing meal for 600 people during the first week, and for 250 people until the day they left,” Col. Paiva said.

Climate change

Climate change is a reality the world must live with. In Uruguay, rains cause rivers to overflow, which forces people who live along the riverfront to evacuate their homes in search of shelter. Between August 12th and September 15th, 2017, heavy rains affected the town of Durazno. Service members from Armored Infantry Battalion No. 13 took action immediately to respond to the emergency, highlighting the full integration between civilians and Army personnel.

“On one hand, the coordination with the departmental emergency committee has been excellent, which we are a fundamental part of, and on the other hand, the local population now knows that in the field, we are the ones who carry the spirit of the national and departmental governments to come to their aid,” said Uruguayan Army Major Alejandro Capeluto, second in command of the Armored Infantry Battalion No. 13. “People know us because of what we do every day and because through the years, with the recurrence of floods in our department, they have seen our vehicles and our soldiers evacuate people and their belongings.”

The Uruguayan Army doesn’t only operate during an emergency situation. An important part of their success stems from their training during situations of calm. The Army develops plans and protocols to be implemented when necessary, monitors different situations and their evolution—designing solutions before emergencies occur—and conducts test runs and simulations. “Helping those who need it most represents a professional challenge for the battalion, since these situations test our capacities to execute diverse types of operations, demonstrate our level of training and preparation, and [allow us] to develop sincere and close connections with civilians, while at the same time ensuring that our profession is not only accepted, but also that our members are recognized on a professional and human level,” Maj. Capeluto concluded.

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