South gradually recovers from Iris
Thursday, December 20, 2001
When disaster struck the south on October eighth, News 5's crews were
immediately on the scene to chronicle the devastation. And while for
many Belizeans Hurricane Iris today remains only a fading memory, for
thousand of people in Stann Creek and Toledo, the effects of Iris are
part of everyday life. Over the last two days reporter Jacqueline Woods
and cameraman Rick Romero have been retracing their earlier paths and
found that while the damage was indeed extensive, for the most part hope
Jacqueline Woods, Reporting
Hurricane Iris left a trail of mass destruction across southern Belize,
but two months after the storm, much of the debris has been cleared. The
work to rebuild the stricken area is being done by scores of volunteers,
relief organisations and the victims themselves. But, there is still
much more work to be done. In Bella Vista, a village in the Toledo
district, seventy-five houses remain without electricity and many
buildings have not yet been repaired. Santos Turcios, the village
chairman, says there are no more materials left to rebuild the homes.
Santos Turcios, Chairman, Bella Vista Village
"These people no have money to buy zinc, nail, lumber. So people could
help to build the houses again."
In the meantime, those families are staying with relatives. Thatch
structures that were blown away or collapsed have now been replaced by
wooden buildings with zinc roofs. To protect the communities from water
borne diseases, tanks were delivered so there can be easy access to safe
drinking water. The Punta Gorda arm of the National Emergency
Management Organisation is charged with the responsibility to oversee
the recovery operation. Tim Rose Augustine, co-ordinator of NEMO. P.G
says the job became less challenging once the villagers overcame the
initial shock of the disaster and started to rebuild their community.
Tim Rose Augustine, Co-ordinator, NEMO, P.G
"The people are really helping themselves. They are building up their
houses and we have the Mennonites putting up the top and the posts for
them, and a lot of them are putting on the side of the building right
now. So they are really helping themselves in providing homes back."
In most Toledo villages the residents' main source of income, farming,
was wiped out as well as their daily supply of food.
Distribution centres were established, like this one in Indian Creek and
donated food items were given to families. The Belize Red Cross has been
heavily involved in relief efforts. It adopted fourteen villages and
supplied eight hundred and twelve households with over a hundred pounds
of food every two weeks.
Matron Shirley Mahung, Supervisor, Toledo Branch
"It has been very hard. Some days it's very difficult and we do not come
back in our office until about 6:30, 7:00. Because of the size of the
delivery truck, we have to make two trips in order to cover the
Thirty-eight school buildings were extensively damaged and six
destroyed. Four thousand students were out of school for a period of two
weeks. Many damaged structures have since been repaired and prefab
buildings have temporarily replaced ones that were completely
Oscar Reyes, District Education Officer
"Yes, we are fully operational, but we're still in need of text books.
We've gotten some support from UNICEF, quite a lot of support I must
say. We've gotten some support from Angelus Press in those areas of text
books and so on, so there is furniture need, there is equipment need."
In Independence village, the high school used as a hurricane shelter had
one of its roofs blown away.
Walter Garbutt, Principal, Independence High school
"It was truly fortunate that nobody got hurt, because the entire roof of
this building was torn off and all these rooms were filled with people.
Approximately a hundred people were in there. The recovery effort began
Walter Garbutt, the principal of Independence High, says a lot of work
went into reinforcing the new roof so the building can remain as a
designated shelter. A lot of clean up has taken place and were it not
for the presence of some debris, you could not tell that a hurricane had
hit the village.
Charles Longsworth, Principal, Independence Primary School
"If some people come now, they might think nothing much happened. But I
can take you around and show you exactly where some houses where. There
were quite a number of houses that just disappeared."
The popular Michael Ashcroft Football Stadium remains damaged and until
the walls and infrastructure are repaired the venue will remain a
playing field for the village children. School principal, Charles
Longsworth says they are also working tirelessly to rebuild the houses
that simply collapsed after their posts gave way.
"Things have changed a lot. It is not the way we want it to be, as you
know, the banana industry was damaged, but we are getting by. The shrimp
industry's doing fine and some people still got a little bit of
employment. So it's not very, very bad, but it's not what we wanted it
Similarly, the people of Seine Bight remain optimistic. The residents
who lost their homes are no longer in shelters and many have been moved
into temporary structures or are staying with relatives. Leonard
Williams, the village chairman, believes that while the storm did its
damage, the event has brought some progress to the community.
Leonard Williams, Chairman, Seine Bight Village
"It took a while for building materials to arrive, however, it did come
and so far there are about nine or ten houses that have been rebuild
that was totally washed away. One of the things they're definitely
having in mind, is to build stronger homes to withstand at least a
category four or category three hurricane. So they are encouraged,
although they are having temporary homes now, to look forward to build
The storm also crippled the peninsula's tourism. In Placencia, although
almost every building received some damage, the community is beginning
to emerge from its nightmare.
Glen Eiley, Chairman, Placencia Village
"Mostly a lot of the pier and the houses and a lot of the loans have
come through for people. Small loans to help them get the roof back on,
the ceiling in and the paint job and it's quite a bit of work that has
gone on. We have a long ways to go and I would hate to see a lot of
shanty little house building because people need to get into
While some resorts have been able to reopen, the small hotels in the
village remain closed further aggravating the economic situation.
"I think one of the major things though, is to get the small hotels,
because the restaurants are fine if they're opened and all this and we
have a few of them up and running. But we will see a drastic reduction
in the amount of visitors that come in because of no place to stay."
Glen Eiley, chairman of the village says they are also concerned about
the lack of adequate phone service in the area. According to Eiley,
B.T.L. has told them that the company is assessing their operation to
see what changes can be made to improve the service. While businesses
have been reconnected, villagers have been told that it won't be until
April when they will be able to use their phones.
"Hurricane Iris affected thirty-six villages. Rebuilding those
communities has been a challenge. It will be some time before things are
fully restored in southern Belize, but the people whose lives have been
affected by the disaster remain steadfast and ready to face whatever new
challenges the new year might bring. Reporting for News 5, I'm