25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Boarding up the Glass Windows for Hurricanes
Which glass windows? There were no glass windows on houses twenty five years ago. When we were growing up in old San Pedro, there were hardly any windows in the small thatch houses, and only one wooden door. So how were the hurricane preparations back in the 50ís and 60ís?
First dad had to protect the thatch roof from flying away during the strong winds of a hurricane. Some guys placed a net over the roof and fastened it. Others simply crisscrossed some rope or wire over the roof. This would prevent the ends from lifting and starting the process of flying away.
Usually to protect the small house, two posts were anchored on each side from the ground to the wall at 45 degree angles. If the house wanted to lean to one side, these posts would prevent it from going too far. The men knew that if the center would hit, first the wind would hit from one side and then, after the eye, from the opposite side. Usually posts were placed on the eastern wall and the western side also.
Most houses had only one small window on each wall. To protect the window from banging open during a storm, a single piece of board was nailed diagonally across it. This piece of board remained there sometimes for years or until it rot and was removed.
What about evacuation? Zero! The rule of thumbs was to move from the beach as far back as back street, which is now Pescador Drive as Angel Coral Street did not exist. No one ever evacuated the island for any hurricane and not a single death has ever been reported in San Pedro ever. For a certain hurricane in 1931, only seven houses remained standing in the village out of about sixty houses. Nobody died.
What about rations. Yes, people bought some candles, batteries for the radio, and lots of flour, beans and sugar to last for a month. Moms usually baked about five pounds of bread for the event. A few drums were also filled with well water. And what about boats? They were only tied inside the mangroves along the river. And what about the animals, dogs, chickens, and pigs. They were let loose to defend themselves during the storm. It was considered mean to keep them tied. And was anything scarce? Yes, occasionally there was a scarcity of nails due to the boarding of windows and doors. Now you understand why back then, if you found a nail on the street, you picked it up. If there were used nails on old boards, you removed the nails for future use. (I still have that habit). Were there any designated hurricane shelters? Only a few houses boasted zinc roofs and they were preferred over the thatch roofs. Blake house and the priestís house and a few others had these roofs. If your thatch was a year old or so, it was considered a safe roof. Any phones or television to communicate and be updated about the course of the hurricane? No, only small radios to listen to The BBCB (British Broadcasting Corporation of Belize) Belize got its information from Swan Islands, not CNN nor the Weather Channel.
So what do you think? Were the villagers of San Pedro safer than the townspeople today? Perhaps the large buildings and lots of zinc sheets on the roofs make it more dangerous today. But surely there are fine concrete buildings today that make a safer place today. But is there anything safe in a hurricane?