CAYO DISTRICT FLOOD REPORT - BELIZE
CAYO DISTRICT FLOOD REPORT SUNDAY NIGHT Oct.19,2008
by Ray Auxillou
There has been a video showing on Bayman Cable in the Cayo District, this evening, taken by compliments of a plane ride from Central Farm. We had actually seen them flying overhead this morning when the sun was out. The video was over an hour and covered from Belmopan westward, to the Guatemalan border and over much of the agriculture areas bordering the rivers feeding into the Belize river. It will be edited into a shorter version for the Love FM, News Program on Monday. International readers can watch the video by streaming internet news service out of Belize. The rivers are deep brown with silt, flowing rapidly in the main channels, but sort of still and quiet like a lagoon, where they have flooded over the banks for a mile or more in places.
What we saw and the reports coming in on television, in the Western Cayo District, are that there has been extensive flooding. Bullet Tree village is underwater. Calla Creek, Santa Familla and many small village and rural communities are flooded. From the plane flight video, we could estimate roughly 200 buildings, homes and businesses, mostly in remote farms, are either completely submerged, or partially submerged. Crop losses look to be roughly $35 million dollars. Fruit orchids and corn and RK beans and some vegetables.
The hydro electric dams have been topped and water is pouring over the top of the dams, to conflicting reports of up to 14 feet higher. The dams are on the Macal River. The Macal River itself is being backed up at the junction, where it joins the Mopan River coming in from Guatemala forming the head of the Belize River. The Mopan is heavily flooding, more so than the Macal River. The two rivers join in San Ignacio Town, to make the Belize River, that runs across the width of the country, to the Caribbean Sea. In San Ignacio town; of the two bridges crossing the Macal River between the two cities of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, the low bridge is completely submerged and has been for several days, and previously it was covered for about ten days. Traffic is being routed in spurts across the Hawksworth Bridge, first one way, then the other. These bridges are only one lane bridges and we probably need a new, very high, six lane bridge in the near future and a by-pass highway around the twin towns. Traffic jams are very bad in the one way narrow mule train streets of San Ignacio..
The water has risen to cover Constitution Park, which is the little park and band stand, near the bus and Savanah taxi stand, centrally located in San Ignacio. Most of those ground floor stores in that central area of San Ignacio Town have at least a foot of water in them. Before the hydro dams on the Macal River, San Ignacio regularly got TOP GALLON floods that did that, but we haven’t seen this for about 15 years, now the dams had been built.
The Mopan River starts in Belize, way down south, a hundred miles away in the southern Belize Alps, separating the Toledo District from the interior highland jungles and flows into the Peten District of Guatemala. This Guatemalan Peten used to be wild jungle, home of the ancient Mayan Feudal Kingdoms, sparsely populated by remote Mayan communities in the jungles. No longer, as abut 30 years ago, population was being moved from the Western Guatemalan highlands into the lower Peten and some 5000 square miles of Peten jungles of my youth, have been cleared and made into ranch pastures. The Mopan River winds through this area and there are many branch rivers feeding into the Mopan River in the Guatemalan Peten area. The Mopan River comes back into Belize at the Melchor de Menchos and Benque Viejo border and flows to our twin towns and joins with the Macal River, draining the more Northern and Eastern Belize Alps. These two rivers then cross the width of our country as one new river called the Belize River, winding to the East, exiting by the port of Belize City on the coast. The deforestation of the Peten in Guatemala has contributed to faster moving water drainoff, along with massive erosion of limited top soil. This draining of the Guatemalan Peten basin into and through Belize is now changing past flood patterns and causing whole new areas that were once unknown to flood, to be in flood zones. These new flood zones in Belize, have not yet been mounted on the internet, by GIS mapping data in Belmopan our capital. The flood crest takes about three days to reach the coastal towns, villages and the port of Belize City. Population explosion needs this flood zone data via internet and GIS.
People who are old, remember back as far as Hurricane Hattie in 1961 and say the floods have never been as bad as this one. The major cause is deforestation of the Peten jungles.
The subject of loss of top soil in Belize along the river banks has been discussed, debated and written about for some 30 years, but no five year, port town controlled national government has ever passed any preventative progressive legislation. The major idea is to create a 500 yard wide, barrier of woods along river banks and prohibit cutting down of river bank forests. Tax relief could be given to property owners to encourage them to do this. Thus making wildlife preservation corridors as well as holding back scarce soil erosion. Perhaps this political term under the UDP, the political party in power will revisit this subject of loss of soil, by erosion and flooding and make some much needed legislation? The Western Highway has cut off Cayo District from the rest of the country. Reports late Sunday night indicate the Roaring Creek bridge is flooded over, by twelve feet of water, at the Belmopan junction, and San Jose Succotz western highway and Benque Viejo Town going to the Western border has also been flooded in two places, cutting off transportation into Guatemala. The bridge at the Guatemala border is also reported to be under high flood water. Spanish Lookout and the farms throughout the HEARTLAND OF BELIZE, the biggest mixed farming,agricultural area in the country, heading north through Orange Walk and Corozal Districts is also reported isolated. Schools throughout the Cayo District have been shut for Monday and probably through Wednesday, announced by the Ministry of Education over the radio and television, as the Metrological Office is reporting two more days of rain, for Monday and Tuesday.
NEMO, the government Emergency Committee are working and have been evacuating people from flooded houses and small farms and communities. These people are being installed for the time being, at the ITVET Community College system in San Ignacio. Mr. Chan of DFC bureaucratic fame, has been giving a telephone report from his position on the NEMO committee Sunday night, over the local Bayman Cable television station. He lives in San Jose Succotz. NEMO was active on Sunday, mostly with immediate areas that could be reached and are not totally cut off by the floods, accessible to evacuate anybody that wanted to. There is considerable assistance being given by many local volunteers to submerged house people along riverbank flooding. Reporters have been doing fly overs with assistance from tourist ultra light TRIKE aircraft and a Cessna from Central Farm, municipal airstrip for the twin towns. There has been no report from Chaa Creek Jungle Lodge and the grass airstrip there, with many planes, we presume, had already flown out to Central Farm municipal strip on Friday past? One doesn’t want your plane bogged down in wet grass and mud. There was a helicopter overflight we saw from our house in Hillview on the slope of Green Parrot Valley going along the Belize River valley water course on Saturday, we presume that was ASTRID helicopter charter?
We phoned Phylis over at EK TUN Jungle Lodge, high on the jungle clad wall of the Macal River Gorge Sunday night. She reported she was fine, but out of food supplies for her and her watch dogs. Her swimming pool had 10 feet of Macal River flood over it, she had reported earlier, by e-mail to the Belize Culture List Serve on Saturday and she cannot get in and out of her Lodge. The dirt track along the river to her place would be deep under water right now and she is on the opposite slope of the Gorge. I wonder if her landrover was parked there. If so it is under water AGAIN! Let us hope the famous troop of Howler Monkeys in the Macal River Gorge jungles are doing alright. The river is up about 70 feet high in the Macal River Gorge at her place. Phylis’s jungle lodge is still higher than her swimming pool about another 20 feet. Her jungle tourist lodge and Jane Beard’s home about a mile and a half from Santa Elena Town, on the Cristo Rey road are reported otherwise okay, but running periodically on portable small diesel generators right now, as they do not have BEL national electric grid connections, due to the high charges for running electrical lines into those properties. BEL wants something like $50,000 to run several poles and an electrical power line to Jane’s home on the Cristo Rey road, about a 1000 feet, so she has to do without the BEL electrical grid. This despite the many new subdivisions being cleared and plotted all through those hills and valleys. The solar battery banks at both places are otherwise dead, as there has been no sun for two weeks, with low cloud cover, due to the local convection, during the rainy month of September and October. Mostly October this year, which is better than in September, which normally accompanies passing hurricanes off shore. Jane Beard is in London, on a training course for the British High Commission trade office, while my brother-in-law Gustavo Pinzon is feeding the watch dogs and playing night watchman sleeping over there. Jane has her Permanent Residency, as she is retired in Belize and Gustavo awaits his Permanent Residency. A check last week at Belmopan immigration, showed his file was stuck in the police department someplace, for the last five weeks. Our Belize bureaucracy rivals that of India, another Commonwealth country, for obstacles and slowness. Good job he checked last week before the flood cut us off from Belmopan. Word is that; Immigration will charge him a $100 a month while he waits for the bureaucracy to process his application. That could take years one would think?
Gale and her husband, USA expatriates in their mid 70’s from Oregon in the USA, were due to arrive by plane Monday, for installing a wooden cabin, prefabricated by Reimer at Spanish Lookout. That will have to be postponed for two weeks I’m sure, as their property is somewhere around Bullet Tree Falls village, which is temporarily flooded. Spanish Lookout Mennonite community shopping is inaccessible right now. With the housing crisis in the USA, Gale and husband, were never able to get their capital out of their home by sale in the USA, as the housing mortgage market had collapsed. So, retirement funds are tight. They are stuck, holding a home in the USA they no longer want, preventing them from moving full time to Belize and starting a farming business. Janet a Mennonite widow, famous for her yogurt at the Macal river, Saturday market and her many daughters are still milking their 32 holstein cows, early morning and evening. They live lower on the Cristo Rey road below Jane, alongside the road, which is dry.
The water in central San Ignacio Town was lapping below Maya Walk place and the German restaurant. The shopping mall with the French Bakery is flooded to one or two feet. All of these places are downtown, central San Ignacio Town.
As I edit this piece this Monday morning, waves of rain pass over every 30 minutes, making a loud drumming noise on our tropical, corrugated galvanized zinc roof, for our Falconview Backpackers Adventure Hostel hammock room verandah. We rent dormitory bunk beds and furnished apartments, with bathrooms and kitchens. Our place is a FOUR STAR HOSTEL otherwise. We have no University and College age guests, this being the dead FALL three month OFF season. Our construction finishing work on two new furnished apartments for winter rentals is held up also by the rains. Our lettuce crop in our organic hydroponic nursery is growing great though. We were hoping to shop in Flores in the central Peten, Guatemala, this coming week, but doubt the condition of the Peten road will be any better than our dirt roads in Belize. Though still better than my memories of pushing my old VW camper bus across flooded rivers in the Peten of my younger years. At least there is a dirt two lane road of sorts now. I can remember when the Guatemalans built that road and big D9 caterpillar bulldozers could get half buried in mud. We can’t find flat clip on lamp shades for overhead protruding 75 watt ceiling bulbs, or 200 thread bed sheets here in the twin towns stores, for our two new rental tourist apartments, being prepared for winter visitors. We were also planning a vacation trip to El Salvador in November, by the mini-bus through the mountains. Lets hope the rainy season abates in a few weeks and things dry up. The trip is through back country mountain roads in Guatemala and Salvador, to save time. Undoubtedly going to be a hair raising trip.
It is 6:30 a.m. and the nighting gale birds are chirping and singing their beautiful songs, on the branches of the orange tree outside our hammock room window, while the flowers are blooming like crazy in the window shutters, with all this rain. The birds wake us with song and close the evening with very loud songs. Everything is okay with the world here. Even though there are rain showers, lowering cloud cover, it is a fine day for the rainy season. With a pot of water on the butane burner, to make some nice hot morning tea, with a tot of local rum, some local raw flavorful and healthy brown sugar, a bit of imported condensed milk and a dollop of fresh local raw bees honey in the tea; my hammock, a book, the cable tv and warm weather, all is right in the world. I would rather be here than anywhere else I can think of, reclining in my living room hammock. It is warm and peaceful, relaxed and comfortable. Certainly I do not envy people living in anxiety and fear, in places like Iceland, the USA and European countries. Those foreigners seem to always be living from one crisis to another. Nope, things are great here in Western Belize, despite the temporary floods.