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Hurricanes Georges and Mitch 1998

Hurricane Georges began as a tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa during mid-September 1998. Tracking westward, the wave spawned an area of low pressure two days later, which quickly strengthened into a tropical depression. On September 16, the depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm Georges, and to Hurricane Georges the next day. The storm reached its peak intensity on September 20 with winds of 155 mph (250 km/h), just below Category 5 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

Over the following five days, the hurricane tracked through the Greater Antilles, causing over 600 fatalities, mainly in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. By September 25, Georges entered the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane. The storm made landfall three days later near Biloxi, Mississippi with winds of 105 mph (165 km/h). Upon landfall, the hurricane's forward motion slowed to an eastward drift. Georges dissipated on October 1 near the Atlantic coast of Florida.

Hurricane Mitch formed from a tropical wave late in October 1998 in the central Caribbean Sea. As the storm drifted over warm water it quickly intensified to a Category 5 hurricane with 180 mph (290 km/h) winds on October 26, then stalled just off the north coast of Honduras. The hurricane slowly weakened as it inched southward toward shore and then inland before drifting westward over Central America. Extreme amounts of rainfall — accumulating to a maximum of nearly 36 inches in Choluteca, Honduras — caused flooding and landslides which killed 13,000–20,000 people, left over 3 million homeless, and caused catastrophic damage throughout Honduras and neighboring countries.

Following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Mitch and Georges, the U.S. Department of Commerce was one of 13 U.S. Government Agencies funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic rebuild their economies and improve their abilities to respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters. The Department's Hurricane Reconstruction Program was comprised of activities developed by three of its bureaus: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the International Trade Administration (ITA). USAID allocated $US17.1M to the Department for the program.

NIST worked exclusively in the Dominican Republic. NIST's focus was in the areas of building codes and construction practices that address buildings that are at-risk to severe winds and other natural hazards. To accomplish this, NIST performed two activities – assessing and strengthening the technical basis for guidance to assist the informal sector and small contractors in constructing housing that will be more resistant to natural hazards; and assist with the assessment of the disaster resistance of selected facilities that serve a critical function in the event of a natural disaster (e.g., hospitals and fire stations). These activities were accomplished through onsite assessments and workshops. A great deal of training was provided to the Dominican counterparts. NIST also worked closely with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on these activities.

For more information, see the NIST report "Manual for Seismic and Windstorm Evaluation of Existing Concrete Buildings for The Dominican Republic (NIST IR 6867)."