25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

Preparing for Hurricanes


O
h yes, we are in the middle of the hurricane season, and some people have already taken the necessary preparations to battle the night of the storm as well as to survive the hardships of the days that follow the devastation. This includes everything from having a stock of nails and boards and flashlights to even purchasing a small power generator to provide lighting after the storm. And what exactly were the preparations made for a hurricane 25 years ago, or in the 1950’s and early 60’s?

First we look at the steps to secure a thatched roof house built with pimento sticks or even a small low wooden house. Every man made sure he had eight long and strong wooden posts or poles. These poles were placed two on each side of the house at 45 degree angles and were fastened both at the sides of the house and on the ground. This was to prevent the house from leaning to any side during the wrath of the wind. Then the wooden windows were simply nailed firmly.

Old San Pedro Village thatch house.
To secure the thatch roof the men would wrap some rope by crisscrossing it over the entire roof. If they had a fishing net, this would also be tied over the roof to help prevent the thatch from being pulled out by the strong winds of the hurricane. And this, believe it or not, worked well for a small house. The day after the storm some people would be heard boasting that their thatch roof was so strong and well built that not even a drop of water leaked in.

People did purchase extra batteries for their flashlights, and this would be used during the storm. To provide lighting for the houses after the storm, people purchased extra gallons of kerosene to burn in their oil lamps. This same kerosene was used in the stoves for cooking purposes. What about La Popular bread? How many packs did we stock? Mothers would bake ten to fifteen pounds of bread, sweet bread and salt bread, and this was supposed to last for three or four days until aid came from the mainland.

The provisions included rice, beans, flour, milk, salt, sugar, and a lot or fish was corned and dried immediately. Every family stored four to five buckets of well water or rainwater and this was to be used for drinking purposes. We also got hold of a few pounds of limestone powder, which was to be used to fix the wells in case they ran salty during the storm. The drum of rainwater was also fastened and covered since we did not want to catch any rainwater. The old people said that rainwater during a hurricane was salty or brackish, meaning slightly salty.

All small dories or canoes were pulled all the way to the front street, now Pescador Drive. They would be tied to fences or any posts along the way. The fishing boats were sailed into the Boca Del Rio and into the lagoon, and they were fastened among the thick branches of the mangroves all along the river up to Caribeña fishing cooperative. Enough slack was given to the ropes to allow for the high tides and for the boat to rise somewhat during the storm. Some fishermen fasten several dories on top of the boats, believing that the extra weight would prevent the boat from capsizing.

Coconuts were removed from the trees and most of the palms trimmed off. Large trees too near a house were cut down to the ground. The high bamboo poles that held wires, which served as antennas for the radios, were also brought down.

And finally, just before leaving the house to go to the shelter, dad would nail one piece of board across the window and one across the door. This and a blessing and a prayer were enough to keep a house safe during a hurricane twenty five years ago. If the men had some time, they would rush to the fishing traps to anchor a few more poles or sticks to strengthen the trap, but they really knew that this was a waste of time for the trap would be devastated, no matter what. But just in case the hurricane did not strike, and only some rough seas would hit us, then the trap would survive and be filled with a lot of fish after the storm. And so ended the preparations to battle a hurricane twenty five years ago.


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