June 4, 2008
BELIZE DIARY: 2 Tropical Storms Depart Belize, Leaving Millions of Dollars Damage, 7 Dead, Many People Evacuated, Especially in Stann Creek District
Major Bridge on Southern Highway Washed Away, Severing Nation
By David M. Kinchen
Belize City, Belize (HNN) -- Tropical storms Alma and Arthur have left Belize, leaving in their wake severe flooding, bridges and roads washed out and at least seven people dead. Officials estimated Tuesday, June 3, 2008 that 10 to 15 inches of rain fell in all six districts of the Massachusetts size nation, from Corozal in the north to Toledo in the south. Dozens of people were evacuated as flood waters rose.
Following is a roundup of conditions from two national news sources:
From Channel 5 (http://www.channel5belize.com/):
"When a hurricane is threatening Belize we traditionally cross our fingers and keep a close watch on the Eastern horizon. But over the weekend, while steady rains marked an early end to the dry season, a relatively weak Pacific tropical storm name Alma broke up over the mountains of Central America and regrouped over northwest Belize into the barest of Atlantic tropical storms named Arthur. But what Arthur lacked in the way of winds he more than made up for with rain. Estimates of ten to fifteen inches fell in crucial areas from Corozal to Toledo, filling rivers that soon overflowed their banks. Particularly hard hit were the waterways running through the country's citrus belt: the North Stann Creek, Mullins, Sittee and Kendal rivers. As a result of the raging waters the Hummingbird Highway was washed out near Middlesex, several villages were isolated and the bridge at Kendal totally destroyed, thus severing the Southern Highway and isolating the Toledo and Southern Stann Creek districts from the rest of the country."
From Amandala, June 3, 2008 (http://www.amandala.com.bz):
"Seven Belizeans are confirmed dead today after the worst flash floods of our lifetime here devastated the Pomona Valley and South Stann Creek, causing the impressive steel bridge at Kendal to vanish as if into thin air.
"Belizeans got a rough welcome to the 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season on Sunday, June 1, with a massive deluge from awful Arthur, a tropical storm that affected portions of all six districts. The storm spawned tornados, and sadly caused seven deaths in rural Stann Creek.
"Arthur destroyed portions of the modern Hummingbird Highway and wiped out the Kendal ferro-concrete bridge on the Southern Highway—all this, even as final advisories on the storm were being issued and the eye of the storm was dissipating.
"The most affected areas were the low-lying, coastal villages of Gales Point and Mullins River, and the low-lying communities of Sarawee (Mile 6, Stann Creek), Hope Creek, Sittee River, and Middlesex in Stann Creek, from where evacuees had to be airlifted or transported by boat to safety.
"The Coastal Road that connects the Belize and Stann Creek Districts was, for the most part, under water, and massive flooding was reported on the Northern Highway, particularly along the stretch between Orange Walk and Corozal, where all ferries were down today. (Note from David M. Kinchen: The Coastal Road is a rough, unpaved shortcut to the southern districts of the country that most people who value their vehicles avoid, instead taking the Western Highway to Belmopan and the Hummingbird Highway to the southern districts.)
"Hattieville and San Pedro Ambergris Caye also reported major flooding, and several boats, as many as 65, were reportedly submerged off Ambergris Caye. One woman was injured in the head on San Pedro and was to be flown in to Belize City.
"In Central and Southern Belize, the storm was most intense last night, when it brought strong winds and torrential rains, with ferocious thunderclaps and violent lightning. The North took a pounding from the tail end of Arthur earlier than the rest of the country.
"Up to this morning, several families in rural Stann Creek were stranded on rooftops as they sought refuge from the pervasive flood, and the Government of Belize, through the Coast Guard, the Police and the Belize Defence Force, teamed up with BATSUB (British Army Training Support Unit, Belize) to activate their search and rescue missions, to evacuate flood victims via boat and chopper. (The BDF calls their operation, Exercise Fastball.)
"Hundreds of people were reportedly waiting for relief in the immediate area Monday afternoon, June 2 – some trapped on housetops, others in their flooded homes, and yet others in rising waters. Even though relief efforts had proven successful, new concerns arose with reports of rising waters in Hopkins and Dangriga. Toledo had so far been spared the brunt of the storm, but a coastal storm also developed around the Big Falls village in that district.
"Most of the tragedy unfolded early this morning. Reports were made via radio that the residence of Mark Ritchie was suddenly swept away with his family inside. Only the father survived. By this morning, the bodies of Mrs. Ritchie and one of the Ritchie children (their daughter) were found, but the third flood victim, Mark Ritchie, Jr., had still not been recovered.
"Officials in Dangriga tell us that the death toll from Arthur has reached seven. Two from Seine Bight; Jayden Roches, a three-year child from Hope Creek, who, we are told, slipped away from his father, Thilberto Roches, in the flood, three people – a mother and two children (the Ritchies) at Middlesex, and one person from Sittee.
"Sittee River resident Alvin McNab, who couldn't swim, died in his thirties a hero, as he was swept away while trying to get a dory to transport two persons, unrelated to him, to safety.
"The District Emergency Management Organization in Dangriga confirmed this afternoon that McNab's body had been recovered.
"Sittee resident, Delcie Anderson, 24, who recounted the incident to Amandala said that waters crested in the village about 6 this morning, and in a matter of 15 minutes leaped the 12 stairs of their home, forcing some people to take refuge on their housetop.
"She said that relatives evacuated them to Silk Grass, a nearby village, via dory. Her village has roughly 780 persons.
"Kathie Gillett, Crooked Tree resident, told Amandala that just after 4:00 yesterday afternoon, she was sitting by some steps when she and other villagers heard a loud noise. It sounded to her like a huge airplane about to touch down.
"It was raining previously, and it was just after the calm that the sudden touch-down of not a plane, but a tornado took place, ripping roofs from at least five homes - leaving the zinc sheeting curled up - and uprooting huge trees over an area about 10 feet wide and for a span of about 50 yards, Gillett said. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
"Meteorologists say awful Arthur is the Atlantic reincarnation of the deadly Pacific Ocean storm, Alma - the cyclone that came up from Nicaragua last week, where it caused several deaths, and then made its way up through Honduras, where it dissipated somewhat, but held on to just enough gusto to give birth to Arthur.
"The storm was named when it emerged off the coast of Belize on Saturday, bringing incessant rains and strong winds, peaking last night when it caused widespread flashfloods in Stann Creek. Notably, the weather system passed over Belize and Mexico, going north then dipping south, as if making a u-turn.
"While rains were not very heavy at the start of the storm, they intensified on Sunday night, bringing hurricane-type conditions that spawned a destructive tornado in Crooked Tree and possibly several offshore water spouts, according to Chief Meteorological Officer, Ramon Frutos. Small craft warnings continue to be in effect for Belize's coast.
"The most devastating effects were seen in the South. The Hummingbird Highway, a major transportation artery for the petroleum and citrus industries, was literally severed. A double culvert was washed away, leaving what Government officials described earlier this morning as a 20-foot gap in the road.
"We understand that CEO in the Ministry of Works, Cadet Henderson, is in charge of overseeing immediate repairs. He reported this morning that efforts would be made to stop the gap with special boulders.
"It is believed that waters rose as high as 20 to 30 feet high in some places, inundating villages, orchards, and leaving behind death and destruction. Chief Meteorologist Frutos said that the weather resulted in squally conditions on Saturday, and the flood waters rose extremely high, because the Kendal bridge that was washed out was as much as 20 to 30 feet above low water level. A Hope Creek resident reported on KREM Radio that the water rose as high as 20 feet.
"Gwen Nunez-Gonzalez, the chair of the communications, education and warning committee of the Dangriga District Emergency Management Organization, reported to Amandala that even while flood waters were beginning to recede in some of the most affected areas of Stann Creek, fresh flooding was being reported this afternoon in the Dangriga portion of the North Stann Creek River and in Hopkins, where some people had taken refuge from parts of Stann Creek that had been inundated.
"Nunez informed that shelters were activated at Delille, Benguche Community Center, the Red Cross building, Ecumenical Junior College in Dangriga Town, and IT Vet in Hope Creek.
"Relief efforts were being targeted at as many as 6,000 people, including those who chose to stay behind in their homes but who are in need of emergency relief.
"Chief Met Officer, Ramon Frutos, told our newspaper this evening that while the worst of Arthur had passed, thunderstorms are forecast to continue in the days ahead, and there are fears of further flooding.
"He told us that the reason why so much inundation has been experienced with Arthur is because of land use changes in the country, particularly where people do not put in proper drainage, and cause culverts to be blocked, impeding the free flow of water.
"Frutos said the meteorologists are watching for another possible development in the Western Caribbean, as what was Alma and then became Arthur can emerge as yet another beast – Boris, over the Pacific. If this scenario proves true, it still would not mean that Belize would be out of the woods, because it could come right back around, he cautioned.
"The key, Frutos advises, is for everyone to stay tuned to the weather reports, as this season is forecasted to be just as active as last year's, which had Belizeans on edge with Hurricanes Dean and Felix within two weeks of each other.
"Last Friday, Frutos previewed the 2008 hurricane season, informing us that while a normal year sees 10 named storms, 6 hurricanes and two intense hurricanes (Categories 3 to 5), this year's projections put the total number of named storms at 15, the total number of hurricanes at 8 and intense hurricanes at 4. About 4 to 6 hurricanes are expected to move across the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, with two to three of them being major hurricanes.
"Intense and destructive weather will continue to affect our region, said Frutos, as we continue to experience what he described as "an energized hydrological cycle," and the effects of global warming.
"He said that while the bulk of the waters associated with Arthur have passed, residents of places like the Belize River Valley have to continue to monitor things, as the waters unleashed over Guatemala make their way down the Rio Hondo, which, he said, will likely experience rising water levels in the days ahead.
"Up North, rising waters are being reported at Tower Hill, as the New River was overflowing its banks.
"Frutos confirmed that the thunderstorm bands associated with Arthur spawned tornadic activity, particularly in Crooked Tree, where cement poles were reportedly downed.
"The weather forecasts called for five to ten inches of rain, life threatening flashfloods and mudslides in Belize. Rainfall in some places such as Consejo, La Democracia and the Philip Goldson International Airport were recorded at more than 11 inches from Arthur's onslaught. There were no reports out of the Melinda Forest Station, Stann Creek, which would have given some indication as to the extent of rains in the South. Frutos suspects they might have lost that monitoring site.
"This Monday morning and afternoon, it was reported that New River in Orange Walk had risen to above the levels associated with Hurricane Mitch (1998).
"One of Belize's busiest centers of commerce was shut down by the storm, as officials of the Corozal Free Zone had called for businesses to stay closed today.
"At Kendal Creek, big trees were seen flowing through where the bridge was supposed to be, signaling that the bridge had been washed away. Previously officials had said that only the rails had collapsed.
"(KREM Radio News reports that, according to Henderson, it will cost $10 million to repair the bridge, and it will take at least 6 months to do so. A pedestrian crossing could be installed in two weeks, and assistance has been offered from the Caribbean Development Bank.)
"Large chunks of the nation's highways became impassable, forcing major bus lines to discontinue their runs on the Northern and Southern Highways, but they continued to operate between Benque and Belize City. The low-lying wooden bridge that connects San Ignacio and Santa Elena was under water, and as much as 6 feet of flooding was reported at the Iguana Creek Bridge near Spanish Lookout.
"Amandala understands that about 30 people who were traveling via bus from Hopkins ran into trouble when waters almost drowned the bus, and they had to be rescued with a dump truck, said Nunez-Gonzalez. The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) had said that no buses were to leave Dangriga or Punta Gorda today. (A van also reportedly ran off the road in that vicinity.)
"Even in Belize City, the effects of Arthur forced several families out of their homes, and the Central Emergency Management Organization (CEMO), opened two shelters this morning.
"Port Loyola Area Representative and Minister of Works, Anthony "Boots" Martinez, confirmed the damages reported in the South of the nation. He added that three to four homes had lost their roofs in Port Loyola, while further damages were reported in Collet and Lake I. Belama, on the Northside of Belize City, was experiencing problems with flooding, but the waters began to recede this morning.
"In all areas affected by the torrential rains, there were left behind a lot of debris and garbage, strewn over streets and roads, and across people's yards. Apart from the major infrastructural repairs needed down
"In downtown Belize City, the comprehensive works being undertaken by the Belize City Council in concert with Central Government, have suffered major setbacks due to the storm, with craters and slushy roads forming on account of the rains and strong winds that pummeled the coastline over the weekend.
"The country suffered intermittent power outages in some areas, but the Belize Electricity Limited issued a statement this morning explaining the need to implement planned outages for some of the affected areas in the South, citing safety precautions because some of the meters were being submerged by the floods.
While the total damage assessment is not in, major agricultural lands were reportedly under water – rice and cane fields in the North, and citrus orchards and shrimp farms in the South.
"Even though most primary schools and high schools across the country didn't open for classes today, CSEC exams for students exiting high school were still on. Education Minister Patrick Faber said it was not in their power to call it off, since the exam is a regional one.
"Meteorologists had said that out west, the Mollejón dam had spilled over the weekend, but at the associated dam, Chalillo, water had not reached the spillway. It is expected to rise further in another day or two.
"The Chief Met Officer reports that on the Mopan River in Cayo, more rising waters are expected as rainfall in Peten and North Guatemala continues to drift this way, and stormy weather is expected to continue into the weekend.
"Even though improvement in the weather is expected by Wednesday, things could deteriorate again by the weekend. Floods are expected to affect the Belize River Valley area in the next two days.
"Motorists are being advised to exercise due caution, especially where water is crossing the road.
"During the national crisis, the Met Office reported that they had been experiencing problems with their telephones since Saturday, and the problems were not addressed by the service provider even as the work day began on Monday."
* * *
I can confirm the street flooding in Belama, since I live in the community. Road conditions in Belize, at the best of times, are chancy, with plenty of potholes and jagged edges where the blacktop meets the shoulder. The major roads in the country would be the equivalent of county roads in the States, if that. There was flooding on the Northern Highway not far from the Brodies shopping center, which includes a branch of ScotiaBank. I'm a regular customer at the center, buying groceries at Brodies and banking at ScotiaBank.
Arthur was the first storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season. The storm names for this season are: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, Ike, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paloma, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred.
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