Flooding in northern Belize continues tonight – particularly in northeastern Orange Walk. That is a chronically flood prone area on the banks of the Rio Hondo.
Our team just returned form those flood affected villages a short time ago – and while they are working on that story, we have the full view from yesterday when we visited Douglas – which lies just outside the land mass known as the Albion Islands and San Roman Village.
Here's what they found:
Daniel Ortiz Reporting
4 villages in the Orange Walk District are experiencing serious flooding as a result of the rapid rise of the Rio Hondo. The NEMO Branches in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts have had to be activated.
Elodio Aragon Sr. - Regional Director, NEMO Orange Walk & Corozal
"NEMO directly has evacuated 27 families, but there have been other families that have gone out on their own, which we do not know, because a lot of people have decided that they're going on their own. So, they leave. The whole of the Orange Walk District is prone to flooding, but then, we have some areas that are very vulnerable, for example, what we call the Albion Islands, which consist of San Roman, Douglas, San Antonio, and Santa Cruz. Today, again, we're experiencing that situation. San Roman has been cut off, cannot connect to town through the road. So, we have to supply boats to get them to San Antonio. Then, in San Antonio, the water has risen very high, and there we have San Antonio, and also Santa Cruz. They cannot cross the river, so we have to supply boats also."
One of villages near to the flood prone Albion Islands is Douglas Village. NEMO is looking closely at it.
Elodia Aragon Sr.
"Water has already started to go into Douglas. In the case of Douglas, we do not need to ferry the people to San Antonio, but we need to take them out because it is a low-lying area, and it becomes flooded."
We went to Douglas to see for ourselves what the situation was like. We found a large section of the village under water, and one elderly resident evacuating:
"Where are you guys going to right now?"
Resident of Douglas Village
"We're going to San Juan, a new building they've finished, the first one in San Juan. My son, he's taking me there. We're going to a shelter. I've been there for 3 days already."
We then moved on to San Roman but because the Rio Hondo was spilling on to the main road, we had to abandon our vehicle about a mile away and walk the rest.
"It looks as if though I'm standing in the middle of a river, I am on the road to the San Roman Village, where I hope to speak with the residents about what it's like when they're cut off from the rest of the Orange Walk District."
We finally arrived at the wooden bridge over the river and even that was under a foot of water.
"How long has the village been cut off from the rest of the Orange Walk District and from Orange Walk Town?"
Jose Manuel Novelo - Chairman, San Roman Village
"Today makes 1 week."
"How many times a year you would say?"
Jose Manuel Novelo
"The last time this happened it was about 5 years ago. Every time the flood happens like this, we go through the river to San Antonio to take out the students and the workers who work in town. They have to get up early in the morning, at about 5 o'clock."
Flori Valdez - Teacher, San Roman Village
"It's been really hard because we live at Orange Walk Town, so we need to commute. It's 4 of commuting from Orange Walk Town to this location, and 1 from San Antonio Village - which is also flooded - coming here. And as you can see, I think you guys passed it, there is no way that we could get in through the land. The vehicles cannot pass; we have about a mile and a half out with water. So, classes have been closed since last week Wednesday, and teachers were reporting to another school, but the children are losing out too much. So, starting today, NEMO got through with skiffs, so, we're coming through by boat now. I have been here for 3 years, and it's the first time I'm seeing so much water."
Today, the commuters from San Roman were assisted by the BDF's Special Boat Unit.
Elodio Aragon Sr.
"We have managed to assist them to be able to come to town. There are a lot of problems that are post, for example, we know that students have to come to school very early, so we have given them priority - they come first in the boats and then the workers and then others. We have supplied a free bus for the students - only students to some down. In relation of getting the villages connected to the town we think we have managed that very well. We are not out of the forest because we know that the water continues to go up. Today it went up about 2 inches. Last night it went up 2 inches. So, its 4 inches for last night and today. We believe that the rivers will be more flooded as the days go by."
Today we visited San Antonio Village, and that story is coming up at the end of our newscast.
Deeper Into The Floodlands
In our last segment, we showed you what the situation in Douglas and San Roman Villages in the Orange Walk District. These are 2 of 4 villages currently on alert because the Rio Hondo is flooded, and has spilled waters into these villages.
Today, our News team went back to the Orange Walk District, where they discovered that it is quite a task to get into – and out of – San Antonio. Here's what they found:
Daniel Ortiz Reporting
The San Antonio Village, one of the Albion Islands, has been cut off from normal means of transportation for 23 days now.
Isela Wade - Chairlady, San Antonio Village
"We noticed that one September 3, we had some water crossing on both sides of the road. Eventually, it started to pass. After that, small vehicles like Toyota's it became difficult for them, cars, the drivers didn't want to take the risk of crossing. Since then, it's been rising every day."
Alfredo Guemez - Resident, San Antonio Village
"It's not easy; it's tough, people like students, they need to get out every morning, and people who work outside the village, they have to do whatever they can."
The village itself isn't flooded, but the swollen Rio Hondo has spilled water on to about half a mile of the main road.
As a result, those commuters to and from the village must use 3 different vehicles to get pass the flood. This emergency transport had been arranged by NEMO.
"As you can see, it's a little bit hectic. You have come on the boats to this side, then the tractor come to this side. They get on the tractor, and then go down to the bus, which takes them away from here. I guess the first days are the worst, after couple days, people get used to it, and just stick with the flow."
To get into the village, the residents arrive by bus, simple enough, but there is point at which they must get off. They then have to get on to a tractor.
Tony Espejo - Operating The Tractor
"The bus bring them to side, we take them from there, and the boats take over. It's 2 boats running this side here, and 1 tractor. San Antonio is very affected by water."
The tractor takes them to the the boats, which the transports them across the deepest parts of the flood.
Elio Avila - Boat Driver
"We usually start off at about 4:30 in the morning, and we go home at 7 or 7:30. We wait for the last bus, which is 7 o'clock, and then we start heading home. We get home at around 9 in the night."
We opted to prove that that what you're looking at is actually a road and not part of a river.
"I've only walked a few yards away from the drop-off point, and already, I'm in waist-deep water. The residents are reporting that should I attempt to go further, it could probably go as high as my shoulders."
Instead of attempting to wade through the water to the other side, we took the advice of the residents and caught a boat.
But at some point during the ride, we decided to test how deep the water was - in the interest of accuracy, of course...
So, while our test for depth trivialized the issue some what, for the residents of San Antonio, it's no laughing matter:
"It's a little bit tiring, but at the end of the day, we're willing to help out the people come through this. It's a little bit tiring for us, but we're doing our best to try to take out everybody who needs to get to work, especially the students at morning, who need to get to school. They start off early, and for most of them, they have to actually get into the water, it's a little bit hard for them."
But what caused all this flooding? Well, according to residents, there are lagoons and savannas on both sides of the road, and when the water rises, it simply sits there for weeks on end.
"How long does it take? I understand that this happens like once every 5 years or so. How long does it take for all this water to recede to the point where vehicles can travel again?"
"It would take a month to 2 months."
We were unable to get to Santa Cruz because our vehicle couldn't get pass San Antonio, which connects to that village. NEMO continues to monitor the situation.