Every cloud has a silver lining and no one in Belize wanted to question the Almighty when hurricane Ernesto skirted the northern districts of Corozal and Orange Walk to make landfall near Mahahual in the neighboring Mexican State of Quintana Roo on Tuesday night, august 7.
While there was no loss of life and very little property damage, Ernesto hit Corozalenos where it hurt most, in their pockets.
Hardest hit were the merchants of the Corozal Commercial Free Zone, for whom the summer months are a boom time when Mexicans have summer vacations, and many excursions of shoppers come to the CFZ seeking bargains. So it was a bitter pill when they had to close up shop and allow their staff to go and secure their homes against the approaching storm. But there would be even fewer daytrippers from Mexico which was also threatened by the storm. The Zone remained closed through Wednesday, until the National Emergency Management Organization issued the all-clear, allowing for the CFZ to re-open on Thursday, August 9. While conservative estimates say CFZ lost $250,00 for each day it was closed for business; others peg that figure closer to a million dollars per day.
The mature papaya trees of the Fruta Bomba plantations withstood Ernesto’s winds, a blessing in comparison to the damage wrought by Hurricane Dean which had flattened the papaya fields in 2007.
The mature canefields in Corozal and Orange Walk also survived Ernesto’s winds, but many cane farmers had used the recent, third payment from last year’s crop to invest in improving their fields and replanting, and the younger cane seedlings may suffer some damage from flooding in low-lying flood-prone areas.
Past sugar cane crops have not been as good as this year’s was, and many farmers have stretched their dollars by planting subsistence crops such as corn and vegetables; many corn milpas were leveled so there was another loss.
The Corozal Emergency Management Organization had opened 16 hurricane shelters in the district, and provided a refuge for over 314 villagers who believed their homes might not stand up to the storm’s winds, or might be inundated by flooding. They came primarily from coastal areas such as Sarteneja, Chunux, Copper Bank, Progresso and Consejo, which does not have a shelter. Others came from villages which have experienced flooding in the past when the Rio Hondo spilled over its banks: San Narcisio, Santa Clara, San Roman, Louisville, Patchakan and Xaibe.