Hurricane Keith Report from the Belize Development Trust
Oct. 4th, 2000, 7 p.m. by Ray Auxillou/Trustee
In brief, there have been 5 lives lost on a boat at San Pedro, no other
None at Caye Caulker. Electricity will be out on Caye Caulker until at
least Dec. 1st.
San Pedro is expected to have electricity in a few weeks. In the
meantime anyone with generators that can finance the shipment to the
islands of Caye Caulker and San Pedro would be doing a good thing.
There is a general shortage of boats for movement of materials to
rebuild, as many boats were destroyed. There also is a shortage of the
most needed building materials, which is corrugated zinc roofing and
lumber for roof trusses and nails of the galvanized type.
Anyone who has tents would be useful. There are cheap tents in the
USA for around 6 people for about $160 in some catalogues. Plastic tarps
would also be useful to cover open roofs and provide shelter to those
with destroyed homes. The village council chairman on Caye Caulker said
at last count he had 290 homeless people.
There is need for muscle power. Strong backs and arms to move debris.
San Pedro has motorized equipment, but Caye Caulker has none. About 50
BDF soldiers would be useful here, if they could be sent out
self-sufficient in food and water for a week. There is a lot of offer of
medical help, but construction materials are more urgent. There are few
injuries and all first aid type cases in the normal course of dealing
with debris and clearing up. The village council of Caye Caulker now has
one day behind it with work teams of villagers cleaning up street debris,
so citizens can move around and get organized. This by right should be a
GOB job. Where are they?
Prime Minister Musa has visited both islands I am told, and has a
clear picture in his mind of the situation. Marshalling the different
government departments when running expired budgets on a debt loan
economy however, is not too conducive to a lot of assistance from GOB.
They are however doing reasonably well within the facilities and
circumstances they face. The British are reputedly coming and when they
come, medical and security is mostly what they do. At this point in
time, neither is a priority, or much needed. If they bring drinking
water to Caye Caulker that will be worth their trip. Building materials
and manpower is more needed. Muscle with tools, such as claw hammers,
hand saws, generators, crowbars. Many people have no insurance and will
have to recycle old zinc sheets and certainly the lumber 2 x 4's to make
shelters, or repairs to buildings. This takes a lot of hand labor that
cannot be done with machines, if they existed; which they don't. Now if
the British Army Engineers, or the USA Army engineers would lend a hand
and bring their tools and manpower, that would be real appreciated
From foreign people retired in San Pedro and also at the Medical
School, the disaster seems to have been more than they could face or
bear. They seem to think that debris littered streets and roofless
houses is a big thing. The pessimism is sad to hear. The tales sad and
bring tears to your eyes and put you into a depression. It is big enough
if you lost your house and have no insurance if it is yours, but the
weather is usually nice and it is not that big a deal. I have been
through it many times on Caye Caulker and you have your ups and downs.
I've had to rebuild about 5 times in forty years. Every spring neap tide
brings a mess to docks and beaches and so on. It is nothing new to the
islandes of Caye Caulker or San Pedro. They will be back in business
some kind of way for Xmas, you can bet. Someone who has led a sheltered
life would be really depressed at the morning aftermath of a hurricane.
Islanders have seen it all before, many times, not so bad maybe, but it
is just more of the same. Get organized and start cleaning up and
reconstruction. Another days work, like the failure of the sugar crop or
something. You go on the best you can, because the islands are a great
place to live, most of the time.
More problematic are things that islanders need, that they have no
control over. These are telephone communications, land line phones so
internet can be started and cellular phone relay amplifiers and battery
charging stations. BEL may think they are NOT going to be able to get
Caye Caulker going with electricity soon, but my bet is it will be
operational in six weeks. There are governmental financial reasons why
and I'll get into that later. Getting electricity back on Caye Caulker
is going to be an infra-structure priority. Basically the governments
annual income depends on it and the ability to get foreign exchange to
pay off loan interest payments.
It is sad the loss of life due to a bus accident in Orange Walk, but it
turns out it was not hurricane related, but careless driving.
Give the islanders the materials, supply the infra structure and they
will do the rest.
The Village Council of Caye Caulker are encouraging everyone who does
not have property on the island and a vested interested, to leave and go
stay with relatives on the mainland. The food supplies and water
supplies and shortage of boat shipping makes this imperative. The
resources are too scarce and the supplies and shipping limited. In times
of famine, only the local island natives on Caye Caulker and San Pedro
with local extended family relatives can survive some kind of way, until
cash flow starts coming again about Xmas. This is also the offseason
for tourism, which makes the FALL time a three month period of
tightening belts in normal times. Cash will be scarce. Reconstruction is
going to just make the FALL scarce season harder. Not impossible, just a
seasonal hardship. There is no extra food and water to support other
people who have come to live off tourists. Most of these are what you
could call intransient type workers. They may have no place to go, that
is a problem!
THE ARGUMENT FOR GOVERNMENT EXPEDITIOUS HANDLING OF ELECTRICITY,
TELEPHONES AND OTHER THINGS, TO THE ISLANDS!
Basically, the GOB biggest source of revenue and foreign exchange is
from tourism. While tourists visit all over Belize, the big draws for
most 98 % of people is at least a visit to Caye Caulker and San Pedro,
before they go wandering around elsewhere in the country. It is the
draw, the sales card that introduces the new tourist to Belize. Then
people go to see other things.
That said, tourism is the biggest money earner in Belize for government
revenues. It is also the biggest source of foreign exchange. If the
tourist season which is usually six weeks starting Dec 25th to Jan 26th
is missed, a huge chunk of the annual government revenues will go
missing. Our government finances have no margin for disasters. We are
operating on a debt economy. The loan situation is around 48% of GDP was
the last word I got. That is not good in the best of times. The GOB
could tighten the belt for a drop in banana revenues, or citrus, but it
cannot stand to lose tourism revenue, in a one major product earner for
the economy. What happens on Caye Caulker and San Pedro will effect all
tourist operations elsewhere in the nation of Belize. Not only
international publicity, but the word of mouth gossip, which is much more
powerful. To counter that, the GOB has to do whatever necessary by
default, to get both Caye Caulker and San Pedro up and running in the
quickest shortest time. This means the infra-structure of telephone land
lines and electrical generating and pole and house wiring capacity. The
other things also that go along with assisting people to rebuild with
their own loans. It is not just a question of dealing with disaster and
people in distress. The GOB is fighting for it's own financial life and
depression and recession if it cannot get good word of mouth advertising
out about Belize from tourists during the six week BIG tourist winter
break. That is why the GOB will pull out all the stops to get Caye
Caulker and San Pedro operational by December 1st at the latest.