By Marion Ali
Heavy weekend showers caused several low-lying areas throughout the country to flood, resulting in hundreds of families evacuating their homes.
Late Saturday, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) issued several advisories with evacuation tips and flood notifications, primarily for southern Belize. By Sunday, the advisory warned the public to not approach certain areas in the south, while giving clear indication to use caution in others.
The NEMO Toledo Committee had been on standby late last week in anticipation of the heavy rains and mobilized on Saturday, when floodwaters threatened the lives of citizens in southern Belize. Shelters in four communities were opened and families were assisted with moving their children and a few dry belongings into those shelters.
According to NEMO’s Toledo District Coordinator Kenton Parham, the priority was getting residents to safety. “The initial thing is the safety of the people. So out of the gate, it would be transport and evacuation supported by the B.D.F.—getting people to safety, getting them to shelter. Once they are in shelter, the relief supplies management committee reaches out as quickly as possible with some pre-packaged stuff so that they can at least get some food”, he said.
Many of the river crossings in Toledo remained closed up to midday Monday. The river in Big Falls rose and came to within inches of the deck of the bridge. Over 100 families in Golden Stream, Bladen, Trio, Bella Vista, Cow Pen, Monkey River, Punta Negra, and other areas were directly impacted and NEMO personnel were assessing their needs in order to help families who had to relocate.
Two men caught in the flood in the North Stann Creek area climbed up a tree to avoid being swept away by the angry currents. While they narrowly escaped death, their plight and that of many others worsened when churches that were opened as unofficial shelters had no food or cooking accommodations to offer victims. NEMO eventually responded to these problems.
NEMO officials met on Monday morning with newly appointed NEMO Minister Edmond Castro, on a working tour of affected areas. At that meeting, Castro urged all Committee members to act first and ask questions later, where getting supplies to persons in need was concerned.
As with almost every disaster, there were consistent complaints about readiness and proper response from NEMO. Persons in one shelter told the Reporter that they were given rice, beans and flour in a three-day package, but had no stove to cook on, since they were forced to leave their homes.
NEMO’s nearest supply-warehouse is in Independence, which may have accounted for delays in distribution. And while some complained, NEMO insists that persons going into shelters should take along at least three days’ worth of food.
According to Parham, “Sometimes logistically we have to overcome some hurdles, for instance with the flooding of the roads that we don’t anticipate…sometimes we get a late start, vehicles, transportation and these sort of things. But with every incident we face, we see areas where we can improve a little and then we change.”
By late Monday, the water was flowing northwards and threatened the Roaring Creek bridge and Belize rural areas such as Maypen, More Tomorrow, Saint Paul’s Bank and others. The rivers receded on Tuesday, however, and an improvement in weather conditions stalled whatever major impacts were expected in northern Belize. There were some communities in Orange Walk that reported temporary flooding, but the effects there were not as severe as in southern Belize.
At the height of the heavy rains and flooding, Adelia Shol, a mother from the remote village of Nalum Ka in Toledo, had just got off a bus with her two-month-old baby girl, Suzette Caac. She handed the child to a fellow villager who offered to help her cross a flooded area. The good samaritan, however, lost his footing and his grip on the child. Luckily, while others thought the baby had been swallowed by the flood, a later report indicated that she did but on a grassy plain just past the flood zone. The child was not injured and is doing fine.
While no lives were lost, Jose Alpuche, chief executive officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, told the Reporter on Tuesday that there was damage to crops but assessments were not yet completed.
NEMO continues to operate and will do so until the all-clear. Local meteorologists predict that sporadic rains will continue for the rest of the week, but barring a major deluge, the situation in Toledo seems under control for the moment.