8,000 homeless in Toledo!

Preliminary estimates from the District Emergency Management Organization, DEMO say that some 8,000 people, more than half of them children, lost their homes in Hurricane Iris.

Whole villages, with populations ranging from more than 1000 people to under 100 are reporting up to 95% of their structures, primarily thatch roof buildings, have been damaged or destroyed.

Villages hardest hit are: Big Falls, Medina Bank, San Marcos, Indian Creek, Silver Creek, San Miguel, San Pedro Colombia, Mafredy, San Antonio, Santa Cruz, Santa Elena, Pueblo Viejo, Jalacte, Blue Creek, Aguacate, Crique Jute, San Jose and Xulinha.

The most pressing needs are for food, water (since the rivers are contaminated and hand pump water is also unclean), clothing and building materials.

Valentino Shal of the Toledo Maya Cultural Council says the people desperately need supplies for babies, especially clothing, milk, baby food, and cereal. Disposable diapers would be welcome, since many cannot wash their cloth diapers at this point. Clothing for children of all ages is also a priority.

Shal says in addition to food, the people need cooking pots and containers to store food and water.

As of Wednesday morning he had not yet seen any food delivered to Punta Gorda, but the TMCC and other agencies had been delivering bread and other items still available in PG to a number of villages.
The TMCC is opening a special bank account, and anyone wishing to make a cash donation can be assured the funds will be used to purchase fuel, rent vehicles to help distribute supplies, or purchase building and other materials.

He says the mood of the people is improving. "Yesterday people just wandered around in a daze, not sure where to start, today they are trying to put things back together."

He says the district is at an even greater disadvantage now than it was before, "Toledo has been put back 20 years. The shelters designated by NEMO were woefully inadequate and everyone knew it."

Paul Mahung, a JP and longtime radio correspondent representing the district agrees that the situation of shelters and community centers needs to be addressed. He says if it were not for the churches and schools, Roman Catholic and other denominations, in many of the villages, the people would have had no where to shelter.

"We have to get some community centers built in these communities. I hope that is something good that can come of this."

Ten schools were destroyed and Mahung points out that it will besome time before the children in the affected areas will be able to resume their education. Even after the clean-up, they will be without textbooks, since all their household belongings were lost.

He says people have been coming in a steady stream to his house to plead on the radio for assistance for their villages, or just to relate their experiences.

"I have had grown men come in and cry, it is very hard, some people have lost everything."

But he says the people are determined to get back on their feet. "They did not want to come in and stay in PG afterwards, they are staying at their homes, picking up pieces of thatch roofing, trying to salvage what little they can, get their place back in order. They will not sit idly by waiting for help, they are helping themselves as best they can.

"Things will get better, they will, we will make it better."

Those wishing to make donations are asked to do so through the Belize Red Cross, the Department of Human Development or other authorized agencies. You can also contact the Toledo Maya Cultural Council directly at 07-22774.
***
22 die at Big Creek during
on-board cruise party

Belizean crew members Eloisa Johnson and Brenda Wade and 20 divers from Virginia all drowned when the Belize-based dive-boat Wave Dancer capsized in Big Creek port as Hurricane Iris came ashore last Monday night.

Except for two other elderly Belizeans, they were the only deaths reported in Belize as the 145 mile per hour winds roared across a 25-mile stretch of coastline between Monkey River and Seine Bight around 8 o'clock Monday night, October 8.

Many buildings were flattened by the howling winds and tidal surge. Others lost their roofs or received structural damage, but remarkably, only two lives were lost on the mainland.
Ample advance warnings had alerted thousands of Belizeans occupying the offshore islands and coastal settlements, and adequate evacuation measures to the imminent danger posed by this category lV hurricane.

Yet the captain and crew of the Wave Dancer and twenty young scuba divers, all from the Richmond Dive Club of Richmond, Virginia, chose to stay aboard the 120-foot craft moored among other craft at Big Creek.

Dive tour operators say that hotels in Belize were all closed because of hurricane precautions, and thisobliged the skipper and crew of the Wave Dancer to look for safe moorings.

The divers and crew apparently believed they could ride out the storm in port, as the Wave Dancer was tied up securely to the dock in the Big Creek. This proved to be a tragic blunder Big Creek Village Council chairman Mr. Tony Zabaneh, has told the media in Belize that he personally repeatedly invited all the people aboard the Wave Dancer to come ashore and be sheltered at his brother's place. The divers all declined the invitation, preferring to stay aboard where they were having a party.

Eye-witnesses say the storm surge lifted the boat in the air like a match box, and when the boat sank into the trough behind the wave crest, it snapped its mooring cables. The waves then swept otherwise stable Wave Dancer across the channel towards the mangroves where it ran aground and capsized in some 12 feet of water. The angry sea swept the hapless passengers overboard and carried them away into the darkness.
Swimming in such a pool of tropical fury is impossible, and it is believed that all the deceased drowned in the first few minutes after being swept overboard.

Twenty two bodies have been recovered, and the three passengers who survived are the two men and one woman who chose not to stay aboard ship.

These three have been identified as David De-Barger, Richard Patterson and Mary Lou Hayden.

Glen Prillaman, President of the Richmond Dive Club, was among those stayed aboard, and who lost their lives Monday night at Big Creek.

Three members of the Belizean crew, including the captain, also survived the tragedy.
***
Havoc at Placencia!

Not since Hurricane Hattie on November 1, 1961 has Belize seen such devastation.
Estimates of property damage range from $50 million to $80 million in Southern Stann Creek district alone.

Hardest hit are the banana plantations south of Stann Creek, and the tourist resort community which has grown up on the narrow peninsula of Placencia.

Mango Creek and Big Creek, home of the deep water port, and the hub of the Belize banana and citrus trade, was ravaged by the wind and the surf, but nothing compared to the body blows dealt to Placencia, the tourist jewel of the south, where 90 percent of homes and resort hotels were destroyed.

Placencia Chairman Glenford Eiley reports that fortunately the residents were persuaded to leave for higher ground in good time. Only a few diehards stayed behind, and these found themselves grappling for their lives when the storm broke.

Delso Sierra and Hanna Sosa are two young men who remained behind in what they believed was a safe house. It wasn't long before the wind blew the roof off and peeled off one side of the house.

"We had to hold on to a door for dear life, pelted by the rain and buffeted by the howling, hungry wind. We thought we were goners, but the wind finally subsided and we survived," Delso Siera recalled.

"While we were struggling to avoid being blown away we saw wooden houses flying by through the air like missiles, and we prayed that one of them would not crash into us."

One of the few buildings left standing at Placencia was Serenity Lodge. Only the main building remained however. It's thatched roof cabañas and ancillary buildings were all blown away.

A few bungalow-type concrete houses stood their ground. These were engulfed by the encroaching sea, but these home owners managed to save furniture and other valuables.

As evening approached Tuesday homeowners gazed with incredulity at the twisted wreck of what had been a fabled tourist haven set on the edge of a sparkling crescent bay. It had taken Hurricane Iris less than an hour to demolish it.

As evening turned to dusk the Belize Defence Force rolled into town and promptly took up patrol duties. The BDF have a permanent camp at nearby Big Creek, and their presence was a welcome sight to hotel owners who were concerned about marauding bands of youths intent on plunder.

In this hurricane Big Creek proved its worth as a safe anchorage in a storm. Although 22 persons lost their lives aboard the ill-fated Wave Dancer when her mooring line snapped and the boat keeled over, a number of other vessels, including Wave Dancer's sister ship MV Aggressor and a couple of swanky pleasure yachts, were able to ride the storm out safely tied to the Big Creek dock.

Five catamarans with sixteen tourists aboard were also able to make it safely out of harm's way and continue their journey southwards.
***
Cops seize 1,500 kilos of cocaine in pre-dawn raid

City Police are holding five men after making one of their biggest and most successful drug busts.

In a sensational swoop on one of the buildings of the Benny's Apartment Complex at Mile 2 1/2 Northern Highway, police seized 3,750 pounds of pure Colombian cocaine packaged in 55 bales.

Police conducted their surprise raid at three o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, October 9.

It appears that the drug traffickers wanted to take advantage of the state of excitement and general confusion caused by Hurricane Iris to move their shipment to a safe house.

Police remained focused and undeterred, and when they finally made their move, were able to seize four Mexicans and one Belizean along with the cocaine.

The police are not releasing the names of the detained men. Inside sources say they are trying to get beyond the circle of lieutenants to some of the bigger names in the drug ring.
***
Espat resigns

Seven days after his incisive speech condemning his govern-ment's policies at a Police passing out ceremony, National Security minister Jorge Espat has called it quits.

Reliable reports are that, because of the national emergency brought by hurricane Iris, Espat has agreed to hold off for now from resigning his post. His departure was to have taken effect immediately after he tendered his resignation to prime minister Said Musa last Friday October 5.

Cabinet Secretary Robert Leslie would not deny or confirm the report. "For now Mr. Espat continues to function in his capacity as Minister of National Security & Economic Development. If there are any changes, the prime minister will make a statement," Leslie told Reporter on Wednesday.

"We are focusing our priorities on the relief efforts caused by hurricane Iris, and Mr. Espat continues to function as a member of cabinet," Leslie added.

When Hurricane Iris devastated the southern parts of Belize just three days after his resignation, Musa reportedly called in Espat and asked that he continue with his ministerial duties, at least for the period of the hurricane relief effort.

Government insiders suggest that Espat resignation was prompted by sharp opposition in response to his sharp condemnation of the Musa administration.

"Exclusion and helplessness have done their work on the faces of Belizeans. A volcano of anger swells in the blood of many of our people.... Today's uninspired political culture, with its stale discourse, its myopic perspective and predictable partnership, lack purpose. We have created a deformed democracy and a mean economy," he told the graduating Police recruits two weeks ago.

Reliable reports are that when Espat finally leaves office, Corozal Bay area representative Vildo Marin will assume duties as Minister of National Security.