Ruthless Richard—a strong category 1 hurricane which pummeled central and southern Belize for 8 hours on Sunday evening with winds of nearly 90 miles per hour and torrential rains—has left substantial wreckage in its path, with $32 million in damages to the citrus industry. At last report, there were 831 homes either partially or completely damaged across 55 communities, during the course of the hurricane.
The hurricane did as was expected of a category 1 storm – it plunged the nation into blackout, downed some of the tallest trees and electricity poles, ripped off roofing, banged up wooden homes, and left a trail of litter.
What was very unusual about Richard is that it held its status as a hurricane for roughly eight hours while it passed through Belize’s terrain. Acting Chief Meteorologist, Dennis Gonguez, said that Richard was expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm, but it maintained winds of over 75 miles an hour while within Belize’s borders, and hit the nation’s capital, Belmopan, as a strong category 1 hurricane with winds between 80 and 90 miles per hour.
Among the other impacted communities are Gales Point, Mullins River, Dangriga, Belize City, Hattieville, Gracie Rock, La Democracia, More Tomorrow, Roaring Creek and Spanish Lookout. The official government report says that Richard made landfall 20 miles south of Belize City on a westerly track, churning through at 13 miles an hour and impacting more than half Belize’s population – 192,800 people.
At least two deaths are linked to the hurricane: Brian Cullerton was mauled to death by a jaguar which escaped when his cage was struck by a fallen tree in the hurricane; the jaguar was killed on Wednesday.
Arturo Gilharry, one of three men trapped on the raging seas in a trip to the Bluefields Range, in the region where Richard struck, didn’t make it when the hurricane capsized their boat; however Edmund Forte, who was also on that ill-fated vessel, survived. Barrington Gomez, the third man in the boat, could not be found.
There are so far no other reports of human tragedy blamed on Richard; however, the financial toll and the emotional trauma it leaves behind are substantial.
National Emergency Coordinator Noreen Fairweather puts the latest damage estimate at $49.2 million—$34.7 million in losses to agriculture and $14.5 million due to damage to homes.
The stories of loss fill many of the pages in this edition of Amandala, and government officials say that the Southside of Belize City has suffered the most devastation due to the storm surge which was reported at the Southside weather station to be roughly 4 feet—some anecdotal information from area residents indicate that with the waves lashing ashore, the water level was higher.
Tonight, we met up with Gloria Cabañas, mother of 10, in the Yarborough area, as she visited the site where her three-bedroom bungalow house once sat next to the Caribbean Sea. Cabañas barely escaped with her children, the eldest one 15 and the youngest a toddler, as Richard was pummeling Belize’s coast with high 90-mile per hour winds.
“Between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m., I came out [of my house]. By the time I came out, there was no step there. I fell down,” said Cabañas. “I ran back to save the children and felt the flooring lifting with me.”
Wading through waters chest high, Cabañas went to seek shelter at St. John Vianney School, a hurricane shelter up the street, on Fabers Road, but fled when she saw that the water was rising there too. So she continued the trek up Fabers Road, to the Sister Clara Mohammed Muslim School, where she and her 10 children were able to shelter.
Just across the street from Cabañas’ home, another house was completely demolished, along with a concrete fence adjacent to the property.
The destitute mother told us that help is coming in from the Red Cross and the Women’s Department, but the one thing she wants so badly is to have her house rebuilt so that she and her children can enjoy a normal life again.
The Thurton family, of nearly 70 members, who live at #16 Queen Charlotte in the Yarborough area, in a place they call “Tut Bay,” was devastated by the storm. Lorraine Thurton, a second-generation member of the family, said that she and some other family members sought shelter after 4:00 Sunday evening on Eerie Street upstairs of Marion Usher’s building, because they were worried about her father, 81, who has glaucoma.
The family is comprised of 41 grandchildren, 8 great-grand and 20-odd other relatives living in five houses in the same yard, said Thurton.
When they returned, their yard was a heap of mess: “We wanted to know if the landfill was here, because it was pure garbage!” Some of it was their garbage; some, she said, had washed up out of the sea.
Earlier today, they got packages from the Department of Human Services, which included corned beef, sausages, rice, beans, toilet paper, chlorox, soap powder, etc.
Community members have also been chipping in with food and clothing, and they have already been assured of breakfast in the morning, Thurton said. However, she appeals for a donation of mattresses for family members whose sleeping quarters had been badly soaked with filthy water in the hurricane. She also appeals for help with school uniforms for her daughter, a student of Gwen Lizarraga High School, who has no uniform to return to school.
Troy Smith of the Belize City Council says that more than 100 damaged homes have been inspected in the area.
While there has been much media focus in Belize City, Amandala found parallel stories of tragedy in rural communities of the Belize and Cayo Districts, which caught the full brunt of the storm’s eye spanning 20 miles from the storm’s center, and not the 15 miles initially estimated.
Far out west in Spanish Lookout, damage to buildings and barns were reported, though there was no report of any collapse, according to the chairman, Allan Reimer. He told us that there was no flooding in the area.
Although Amandala was not able to make it to More Tomorrow, when we tried reaching the village, due to flooding, we were able to speak with village chairman Michael Myvette via phone, and he told us that there were two houses pummeled to the ground, and a total of about 13 which suffered structural damage. There were fallen trees, some of which fell on some cattle and killed them, Myvette reported.
However, for More Tomorrow, a farming community located near Mile 40 on the Western Highway, the real tragedy is what Richard did to the fruit and crop trees.
Richard took down about 2,000 sacks of oranges on one farm, claimed Myvette, who describes the storm’s impact as serious. He claims they experience winds of up to 90 miles per hour in the village—forceful winds which he said they did not expect.
According to the Government of Belize’s initial assessment report, “The citrus industry recorded the greatest losses in the agriculture sector as 1,500 acres of un-harvested oranges and grapefruits were blown off trees.”
Meanwhile, housing damage was billed at $14.5 million.
Henry Anderson, chief executive officer of the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) told Amandala this evening that about 80-85% of grapefruit and 20-25% of the orange crop was blown off trees, for a total value of about $32 million.
He noted, however, that citrus farmers affected by Hurricane Richard have also lost other types of crops, such as nutmeg, plantains, vegetables and cocoa.
Anderson said that a Mullins River citrus grower also lost his entire nutmeg crop and 1,000 plantain trees in the hurricane.
There are attempts being made to salvage as much of the citrus as possible, and the two factories of Citrus Products Belize Limited (CPBL) were kicked into full gear today to speed up the processing work.
Denzil Jenkins, director of CGA, chairman of CGA’s Investment Company Ltd., director on the board of CPBL and a grower himself, told Amandala that the shock that the trees have gone through with the hurricane will stimulate a survival mechanism, and the trees from the affected farms are likely to come back with a vicious bloom and a “very big crop” next year.
Bankers might feel that the citrus industry has gone belly-up, but it will rebound, said Jenkins.
Tourism has also suffered due to Richard. Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Tourism, Mike Singh, told Amandala that the losses to cruise tourism are estimated at about $1 million. An official source informs our newspaper that three cruises which were scheduled for October 26, 28, and 29, which would have brought an estimated 9,000 passengers total, were cancelled due to Richard.
Richard has also shut down some conservation sites and attractions in Belize. Anna Hoare, Executive Director of the Belize Audubon Society told Amandala Thursday that the NGO has had to shut down five sites, and she estimates losses of around $100,000.
Guanacaste National Park, at the Belmopan junction was hardest hit, as Richard uprooted and de-limbed many trees, while causing extensive damage to the visitor’s center. St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, located off the Hummingbird Highway, was the second most impacted, Hoare said.
The other badly affected sites are Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Half Moon Caye National Monument, which lost an $8,000 shower stall.
Hoare estimates that it would take about two to three weeks to restore the parks because many huge and old trees were uprooted during the hurricane, and they will need outside help to clean it all up.
All across the hurricane’s path, cleanup efforts have been ongoing since the hurricane’s winds and rains eased early Monday. We found Afro-Belizean youth laboring Wednesday night at Cummerbatch Shop on Yarborough, Belize City, toiling away to rebuild the hurricane-wrecked structure from scratch.
Likewise, the relief efforts have been ongoing since Monday, but for the victims of the hurricane our newspaper had a chance to speak with between Monday and tonight, the aid, understandably, is not coming as fast as they would like.
Some victims say that they need urgent assistance with bedding and mattress; others were asking for more food supplies. Families with children in school are in dire need of uniforms and books.
Councilor Roger Espejo, the Belize City representative on the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) told Amandala Wednesday that the plan is to issue a total of 1,800 rations (food, cleaning and personal care items good for a family of five) between Tuesday and Thursday this week, mainly on the Southside of Belize City, which has been declared the hardest hit.
A reported 4,639 people sought shelter around the country during the hurricane. By early Monday, all Belize City shelterees had left, anxious to find out the condition Richard left their homes in, Espejo said.
The councilor said that what really struck him, during relief efforts, was the distraught look in the faces of hurricane victims.
Richard died over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, after wreaking havoc in Belize.
The Acting Chief Meteorologist, Gonguez, warns that there are still about five weeks to go before the hurricane season closes, so Belizeans need to remain vigilant, since this is a very active season.
(Contact numbers for victims - Gloria Cabañas: 620-7750; Lorraine Thurton: 600-6822) Amandala