PLENTY BELIZE STAFF REPORTS
Tuesday, Oct. 9
Wanted to let you know that we are all well in Punta Gorda but consider ourselves lucky as the eye of the storm missed us by about 12 miles west. It tracked through Medina Bank, Indian Creek, San Marcos, Dump settlement, San Antonio, and havent heard yet where else. It caused lots of property damage according to the early radio reports this morning. Luckily, there have been no reports of deaths but we did hear that some 20 homes were destroyed in San Antonio, as well as most of the homes in Indian Creek, San Marcos and Medina Bank. Placencia and Monkey River were almost completely destroyed. Last night we heard on the radio that Placencia was under 6 feet of water when the surge came through.
Sister Marion reports that Big Falls is almost destroyed, very bad shape. Otherwise casualties appear to be very limited, only injuries reported so far. Santa Cruz was apparently the next village hit after San Antonio, so storm seems to have veered west. Update from San Pedro Columbia-204 houses completely destroyed,150 partially destroyed, 2 new school buildings destroyed, several churches also. The person reporting says nobody has been there yet to assess the situation. Food, water, are needed. Crops are in bad condition. This was from a villager speaking to Paul Mahung on Love FM (the largest Belize radio station).
Laguna also hit hard, about 20 houses down. People around Big Falls are just standing around in shock, some beside the highway, nobody knows what to do or where to go.
Our team has begun soaking beans to prepare soy foods, since that is what we had on hand. Others have gone to buy grinders, onions, seasonings, etc. Have loaned some cash to buy flour to make bread for Monkey River people.
The forest is stripped of leaves. Center for Employment Training buildings have suffered damage. Big Falls is devastated, most thatch gone, some houses totally down, two storage buildings down at Belize Marketing Board/rice mill. Gas stations are inoperable - no power, maybe no gas. Nobody there. Power poles down, wires across the road between Dump and Big Falls.
The most immediate need will be home reconstruction in the villages hit hardest. Will update you more as we get more information. Just heard on the radio the following: San Pedro Columbia and Silver Creek are flattened except for a couple of cement buildings. The rice and corn crops are wiped out around San Pedro Columbia.
Wednesday, Oct. 10
Still no gas in Punta Gorda, bottleneck is the two rivers flooded along the Southern Highway. We are channeling our food via Methodist school which is packaging meals and then delivering to Ministry of Works, who are apparently handling distribution. The whole affair is rather disorganized. Food is getting to the villages, but not necessarily in a logical or efficient fashion.
Martin Ack, our environmental educator from San Miguel, came in this morning. He reported that there are about 80 houses completely down there, including his own. Another 30 or so lost their roofs. The hand pumps are raising only brown water, and they are afraid to use it, so water is a high priority need there. Food aid is reaching them, and people have some stockpiles that they are saving for when food aid runs out. They got a new water system only a month ago, but now have no power to run it, and are unsure anyway about possible contamination. BEL (the govt run utility company) seems to be nowhere. Power lines are down everywhere. Martin told how his father did not want to leave the house, but finally when the wind started getting really strong, he persuaded his mother and brothers to go to the shelter with a concrete roof. He described the sound as like thunder, or a forest fire approaching. Then his father finally agreed to go as well. They made it there about 7:30 PM, and the highest winds came about 8 PM and lasted till about 9 PM. At 11 PM the wind had settled enough to look outside, and that is when they saw the devastation. People were crying, could not believe their eyes.
He advised, and others have confirmed, that rebuilding is going to be extremely difficult. The forest has been reduced to stumps and broken pieces. Cohune palms are either knocked down or damaged. Mature trees are broken, and young ones are too small or also broken, so few will be usable for thatch, even if people can reach them and drag them back through all the deadfall. He said everyone has a roof over the heads in the village, and nobody would want to go to town, which was NEMOs (National Emergency Management Office) plan. The villagers are going to organize a communal kitchen for those who HAVE lost their cooking facilities. Clothing is not a serious issue, though many people are wearing wet clothes since they dont have anything dry.
Last evening we drove out to Big Falls with a jeepload of pinole (roasted and ground soy and corn mix). We met Remigia Cucul there, and found that she and her family are already operating an informal feeding center out of her mothers house. They were very organized, had lists of recipient family names, and we were able to hand out to about 25 families on the spot. We left the remaining 60 or so bags of corn/soy pinole with them for handout this morning. The women receiving the food were very appreciative, but very calm, nobody was panicking or hysterical.
This morning we have been doing soy fritters, and last night soy milk was prepared. We will take all that to the school later, for the dinner distribution run. We have 2 Peace Corps Volunteers working with us on the food effort, plus other volunteers.
Stay tuned for more reports from the Plenty crew on the ground in Belize.