25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

Living Through Storms


C
an't believe that with so much said and going about hurricanes, the editor would ask me write something related to hurricanes and 25 years ago. Well, here we go.

In looking for something strong to replace the blown away shingles of my house's roof, I asked a constructor and he said with a smile: "Use thatch, my friend. Look at all the damage on the zinc roofing and the asbestos." Indeed he might be right for in the hurricane of 1942, Janet in 1955 and Hattie in 1961 houses were blown down but the damages were not severe for the "huano" or thatch. Good huano according to the older folks, if cut in the right moon, has the capacity of lasting for ten years, and back then huano grew abundantly on the island. Not good for fires, but we might start thinking of planting some huano so we can have immediate relief supplies after the storms.

Another thing that has caught our attention is the darkness of the streets and the homes lit with the "quinque"(kerosene lamps) and the hurricane lanterns. These glow and make the houses pretty romantic, right? Today it is a sign that electricity has not reached those houses and a mark of deprivations, but not so 25 years ago when everyone was lit like that and there was no waiting for feeder one nor feeder four for power.

Hand tools are pretty much in demand these days, right? The hand saw and drill are good reminders of how laborious and how time consuming doing a simple job was, like cutting a wooden step is. And don't even mention the hand plane or a jig saw and how tiring the use of these tools can be.

Hey, this week we pulled out from the storeroom an antique, a gasoline instant light, a Coleman brand of the type that uses compressed air and a mantle that will light up a room like a 75 watt bulb. Unbelievable but that lamp still had its mantle, which is as fragile as ashes. You can blow that bugger and it will disappear. Anyway, I took the lamp, filled it up with gasoline, pumped it up so it had compressed air, inserted a lit match near the mantle, and opened up the valve, and bingo! It lit up immediately without any difficulty even though it had been put up in its box ever since twenty-four hour electricity came to San Pedro some time in the 1960's. In the 50's we used to study with these lamps and 2 or 3 were used to light up the dance halls whenever there was one scheduled. The bright Coleman Lamps were a sign that the party was about to begin.

One more reminder of these days after the hurricane of twenty- five years ago are the desolate streets by 8 p.m. Today a curfew takes everyone home for fear of being arrested. Twenty- five years ago it was normal for the dark streets to be vacated by seven or eight o'clock on a voluntary basis. At 8 p.m. the police officer would ring the bell signaling to the school children that it was time to go home. If caught the policeman could give you a whipping or could opt to take you home and ask your father to give you the lashings. Yes, a few Romeo's did stay out late but not under any fear of the police catching up to them, but rather that the father-in-law might catch him.

A few more comparisons. Hurricane Keith was like the hurricane of 1942. It hit from the west north west and damaged the back of the island sparing the beach side. This was the same effect of Janet in 1955. Houses on the beach were literally buried in several feet of white sand. Not so for Hattie. That demon hit from the east- side devastating the entire beach and Front Street and sparing the lagoon side.

That is enough for hurricanes, folks, and I do not want to hear more about that subject until 40 or 50 years from now. Superstitions have it that hurricanes hit Belize every 30 years, so that makes it until 2030.

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