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#12306 - 10/12/01 08:17 PM Belize Indian towns devastated by Hurricane Iris
Marty Offline
Belize Indian towns devastated by Hurricane Iris
By JULIE WATSON
The Associated Press
10/12/01 2:21 AM


BLADEN, Belize (AP) -- As the rain came down, the assistant mayor of Bladen and his family of nine huddled under a scrap of corrugated metal covering the remains of his living room -- two walls and a post.

But the 37-year-old official, Margarita Sho, is better off than most in this town of 500. His neighbor's home is a pile of lumber and straw, and there's not an intact house to be seen from the ruins of his own.

Hurricane Iris cut a narrow corridor of devastation across southern Belize late Monday night, and largely Indian communities such as Bladen stood right in the way.

"Ninety-nine percent of the houses have disappeared from these villages," said Victor Cal of the Belize Indigenous Training Institute, a vocational education center in Punta Gorda.

The only known deaths occurred on a U.S.-chartered dive boat that capsized on the coast, killing at least 21 people, most of them members of a Richmond, Va., scuba club.

But officials say 13,000 people are homeless and total damage could reach $250 million. Thousands have lost their jobs in the banana and tourism industries.

"Right now, we're just picking up the pieces from the fields to try and rebuild," said Sho, whose scrap of metal was salvaged from the litter of lost roofing scattered around the village. "We're just trying to survive."

The eye of the hurricane cut through forests of Caribbean pines 100 feet high, creating a corridor of mulch.

The banana plantations that are Bladen's main employers have been turned into fields of stumps.

Tony Zabaneh, chairman of the Banana Growers Association of Independence -- a nearby village -- said there likely will be no banana exports for at least nine months. He had to lay off 90 people.

Many of the banana workers are Maya and Garifuna Indians -- some natives of Belize, others drawn from nearby Central American countries by relatively high wages or pushed here by wars.

Near Bladen, residents, government workers and Belizean officials used chain saws to slash openings in dirt roads to the neighboring Mayan village of Medina that were blocked by toppled trees and debris.

But rebuilding has barely started.

Speaking with a Caribbean accent sprinkled with the sound of her Mayan dialect, Margarita's wife Nicolasa said she hasn't been dry since Iris blasted through her village.

"Our clothes are soaked," she said, pointing to a clothes line strung in her roofless home. "It's been raining on us while we sleep."

Not far away, women clambered among toppled 50-foot trees to wash their clothes in swollen, chocolate-brown rivers.

Abraham Yam, 29, a sugarcane worker from the Corozal district in northern Belize, drove in Thursday with a truckload of clothes and food.

As he arrived, Mayan women in traditional orange and blue dresses rushed toward him, shouting "Give me some rice! Give me some rice!"

Yam said Belizeans are depending on one another to survive the disaster. His own village near the Mexican border was unaffected, so residents collected what they could as donations.

On the outskirts of Bladen, Marco Tule Martinez, 36, stood before the remains of a banana field, the stench of rotting fruit piercing the air.

A father of six, Tule said growers were trying to decide what to do about the 200 people who worked the 430-acre field where he has toiled for past nine years.

His house reduced to rubble, Tule has been living in a makeshift shelter of wood scraps in front of the plantation. He said medicine was needed for people who have been developing skin rashes.

Tule, who is from Guatemala, said he hoped the Guatemalan government would get word of the disaster and help compatriots here.

"No matter what our race, we are all suffering," he said. "It's been three days since the hurricane and I think our problems are just starting."

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#12307 - 10/12/01 08:45 PM Re: Belize Indian towns devastated by Hurricane Iris
pacwoman Offline
Thanks for this post - glad to see main press picking up some extended coverage and getting a bigger picture of the impact in Southern Belize. Have sent letters and reports to AP, UPI, Reuters, and NPR. NPR response noted that audience letters to "All Things Considered" read on Thursdays...

To all: keep those channels of communication flowing, so that Belize remains visible on the radar!
_________________________
-----------------
Pepper A. Chastain
Austin, TX USA

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#12308 - 10/13/01 12:30 AM Re: Belize Indian towns devastated by Hurricane Iris
cacaogrower Offline
Yes, very glad to see some attention paid to the folks in the ruined agricultural areas. Southern Belize will need lots of help to get its two leading economic activities - agriculture and tourism - functioning again.

In the meantime, all those thousands need their daily life needs met.

Keep those donations coming and encourage others to contribute, too.

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#12309 - 10/13/01 02:55 AM Re: Belize Indian towns devastated by Hurricane Iris
Marty Offline
AP article on Iris, Thursday

Hurricane Iris left at least 22 dead, thousands of houses damaged

BIG CREEK, Belize, Oct 10 (AFP) -
At least 22 people were killed, 18 of them US nationals, and thousands of houses were destroyed, authorities in Belize and Guatemala said Wednesday after assessing the devastation wrought two days earlier by Hurricane Iris.

Authorities said 20 bodies were recovered in Belize, the worst-hit by the powerful hurricane that made landfall late Monday and has since fizzled out.

The 20 who died in Belize, including the 18 Americans, were all aboard a dive boat that was ripped off its mooring and capsized when the compact but explosive storm hit.

Mayor Tony Zabaneh of the small town of Big Creek said seven US nationals were rescued. Owners of the Wave Dancer said earlier eight of the 28 people aboard the yacht survived the wrath of the storm that packed winds of up to 220 kilometers per hour (140 miles per hour).

Most of the dead were members of a Virginia dive club who chartered the 43-meter (120-foot) yacht for a weeklong Caribbean cruise in Belize.

Another two people were killed in Guatemala. One of them was crushed under a tree uprooted by the storm and another died of cardiac arrest.

Entire villages were razed in Belize, but authorities in the worst-hit areas said residents had been evacuated before the compact but explosive hurricane hit land.

Rescuers say 23 communities were hit with 13,000 homes damaged or destroyed, and several communities Wednesday remained without power, water or telephone services, while some were entirely cut off.

Local radio quoted the National Emergency Management Organization as saying 8,000 people in Belize were left homeless by the hurricane, which struck an area some 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Belize City.

Bridges and plantations were also destroyed by the storm.

Belize nationals called in to local radio and posted messages on the Web, frantically searching for news of friends and relatives in the affected areas.

In neighboring Guatemala, authorities said 700 houses were destroyed, forcing 1,700 people to seek temporary shelter. In addition, dozens of schools and community centers were damaged.

In addition small farms growing corn and beans in the impoverished northern department of Peten were completely destroyed.

Several areas remained cut off Wednesday and authorities sent planeloads of food and emergency supplies.

The strongest storm to hit the Caribbean this season, Iris had already caused three deaths in the Dominican Republic Saturday.

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