Hurricane Iris and the Little People
By Ed Eaton
Solar Energy International
October 12, 2001
It has been only a few days since Iris invaded the land of Belize. It seems as though it was along time ago already. Then again the days seem to be moving rather slowly. Recent days have been long and contemplative. What to do? Who to help and how When you travel to a Toledo village, a sense of helplessness can invade your spirit.
The needs of the village people are many. Some needs like water, food, shelter and clothing seem simple. Simple; in the sense that they are the basic human needs. Simple when you understand how to disperse them. Deliver them. Ascertain them. Simple when the numbers are small. Simple when the roads are good. Simple if they solve the problem.
Not the case here. The need is huge. The roads are bad. Materials can be hard to find. Most crops are gone. The problems are long-term not short-term.
Iris has impacted many, many lives. The villagers, the relief workers, the animals as well. It is very difficult to be out in the flattened rainforest. Not only have people been effected. The forest has been blown away. The Toledo District of Belize was hammered. It took the brunt of Iris's wrath. Destruction is prevalent over a wide area.
Iris has stolen the lives of thousands. Not on the sense of death, but livelihood. Most of those who have lost their homes have also lost their farms. These are subsistence farmers who rely on their corn, rice, beans, bananas, cacao, etc. for food and some modest income.
I came here to Punta Gorda with my friend and fellow worker Mark to work with these very farmers. We wanted to enrich their lives with some solar powered lights and water pumps.
On Monday Oct 8th, a day that Belize will long remember, we had a meeting with Mr. Cal and Mr. Ash. Both are senior members of the Toledo Cacao Growers Association.
(A small cooperative of 159 farmers who collectively market their organic cacao.) We met in the early morning. The air was still and the sea was calm. We had met before and were happy to see each other again. At the meeting we shared with them a new design of low wattage lights that we had developed in the states.
We all agreed that the new technology we were demonstrating seemed affordable, at around $300.00BZ, to most of the association members. We were all so happy. Finally we had a viable project to pursue. The solar panels, along with the lights and controls, would be assembled locally at the vocational school. Micro enterprise, affordability. Everything we were striving for.
It was early. 8:00am. We talked about Iris. Hopefully she would stay up north. Leave Toledo alone. The news said Iris should land near Dangriga. Come ashore and weaken over land. We made plans to meet at Mr. Cal's farm on Wednesday afternoon. Set up the new lights. Share some food and discuss our next moves.
Iris did land near Dangriga. Maybe twenty miles south. Monkey River was her port of entry. Monkey River was blasted by her fury. Iris then did the unexpected. Iris attacked the little people. She headed south along the mountains and skipped over to Guatemala. Virtually all of the villages west and slightly north of Punta Gorda were hit. And hit with a vengeance. PG was spared. Not since 1944 has a hurricane directly hit PG. I am glad because I have seen what Iris has done.
If you travel just nine miles west of PG the devastation begins.
The gas station here in PG sold out of gas by 11:00am that Monday, Oct. 8th. Nine miles was as far as we could go on Tuesday. We were nearly out of gas too. We went to Big Falls. Fifteen miles away and it looked like a war zone. We realized immediately that this catastrophe was way, way bigger then we had anticipated. By Thursday the fuel trucks rolled into town.
On Friday Mark and I went to San Antonio. The home of Mr. Pablo Cal. San Antonio lies about 25-30 mile west of PG. Right in the path of Iris's tirade. I was hoping that Pablo's home and farm had been spared. I will tell you now. It was not.
It is hard for me to describe what has happened here. Visually it is extremely disturbing. Emotionally I feel like someone I love and cherish has died. When someone dies, you know that they are not coming back.
It is that kind of a feeling. As you drive out to San Antonio there are high points on the road where you can see long distance. It appears as if an army of Jolly Green Giants got drunk and stripped the trees of all of their leaves. Then they snapped them. Like you would snap an asparagus. They made an effort to step on the grass huts and flatten them. Avoiding the stronger cement block homes. Just taking their tin roofs for the heck of it. They moved real fast creating a monster breeze that swept personal belongings away. Corn, fruit, tin, thatch, clothes. You name it. It is ruined.
Fortunately, with all this destruction, no lives in Toledo were lost. There were minimal injuries. Given the circumstances.
Pablo Cal is a strong man. Sixty four years old. Father of fifteen. When we sat and spoke my heart was crying. I felt helpless. His house is destroyed. His farm is destroyed. He felt vexed at times, sad, confused and concerned. He knows he can fix his house. After all, it is man-made. But what about the land? Nature had provided it and now nature has taken it. His entire cacao crop is destroyed. This season's citrus is all on the ground. Premature and worthless. His future looks grim.
His spirit, which I have admired in our previous meetings, is muddled with fear and a sense of loss. Loss of the natural beauty that had surrounded his domain. A beauty that he has cherished since his childhood.
I like Pablo Cal. I asked, "How can I help?" Pablo told me he was too confused to think. His natural farmer instincts had him planting his corn. It is still the rainy season. He could have a modest crop in three months. He had concerns for his fellow farmers. Are they in too much of a daze to stay on track. Plant the corn. Work the land. Or will they fall prey to remorse and sit with their head in their hands?
Pablo has a solar water pump system. It pumps water uphill for 110 feet into a 450 litre holding tank. It survived Iris's attack. I was there to check out Pablo's situation and to ask for that tank. We wanted it so we could haul water out to the villages.
I have had to do some hard things in my life. Asking for that tank was one of the hardest things I have had to do. I know how much Pablo enjoys his pump system. I know how much labor it has freed him from. But most of all, I know he is a good man who cares about his fellow man. He did not wince. He knew I needed it for the right reasons. I like Pablo Cal.
Well, I could fill that tank with my tears. I hope that my fears of famine and despair do not come true. I hope the gods look favorably down upon our friends. The little people.
Solar Energy International