The Explosion, The Aftermath
Cayo residents are still in shock after yesterday's freak blast. The explosion killed 71 year old Ronald Sutherland. He was the owner of Tiger Aggregates Ltd. the company carrying out the operations on the Santa Elena site. Sutherland is known as an expert blaster but he made a costly error. The residents in the area also got hit hard as the boulders were flung great distances and crashed into their homes, destroying everything even vehicles. Some residents also got injured. It was huge eruption one that Cayo residents have never seen or experienced before. Courtney Weatherburne went to Cayo to see the aftermath including riveting amateur footage of the explosion in real time.
The massive explosion caught on camera "Buay he dead, he dead!!!"
The man who was caught in the blast was 71 year old Canadian Ronald Sutherland - owner of Tiger Aggregates LTD.
Sutherland and his team were extracting material from this hill in Santa Elena yesterday evening. Authorities say, they had informed the residents from 9:00 yesterday morning that they would be blasting in that area. Teams were also sent out in the afternoon around 3:00 to evacuate the residents. While safety measures were put in place, tragedy struck.
As seen in this amateur video, the first couple blasts were minor shocks but the final boom was the deadly one.
Juan Suarez - Eyewitness
"I video it from up there because we had about an hour the wait for this explosion because we were working, so I got my phone on the window the video. Well the first one never gone so big but we wait for the next one and I see the white man was standing in front of the machine right, then I see the explosion it was very big."
...Frantic screams and pleas for help after the explosion. Suarez and other residents raced over to the site but Sutherland's mangled body lay covered in white mall and dust - a life lost to an on-site mistake.
Hon. Rene Montero - Area Rep.
"As far as I'm concerned it was human error because Tiger Aggregates the owner who is deceased now is an expert in blasting and it seems as though with the power they made an error putting too much power in the blast and that caused the situation here. This is the first time; we normally don't blast where we have people living in the area."
"So why were they given permission to do that here when the residence were around?"
Hon. Rene Montero
"As far as I'm concerned, Tiger Aggregates, they have a 2 year license to do blasting."
"Are there any restrictions of where they can blast when residence are around?"
Hon. Rene Montero
"Yes, there are restrictions and the police made sure all the procedures and safety features were taken into consideration but it's unfortunate this happened."
While everyone is shaken by Sutherland's death, the residents are also in dismay as their homes were wrecked in the explosion. Today, large stones are still scattered on the streets and in homes.
Raymond Garnet - Resident
"My inside destroy, I don't know who to go see to fix that back."
"So everything pretty much destroyed inside?"
"Well damaged with stones, you can go inside and take a look; the car same thing too."
Danny Ku - Resident
"It is disastrous, we didn't expect it would turn out to this magnitude but I guess this is what we have."
"In terms of cost damages overall..."
"I haven't assessed it as yet but the house is totaled on the inside."
Now the only thing left untainted in Ku's house is his family photo, his inspirational quotes and the hope that he and his family will soon be able to enjoy the comfort of their home.
Hon. Rene Montero
"We are visiting all the people that got affected and give them an assurance that the company will immediately start repairs. I spoke to the sales manager of BRC because they are the ones that have the contract to upgrade the George Price Highway and they gave me an assurance that they are going to immediately compensate the people that got affected."
"So they will pay for all the repairs for all the houses that were damaged?"
Hon. Rene Montero
"Everything they are going to pay."
Comatose Man’s Home Caught in The Explosion
Area rep. Montero says that overall there were about 10 homes and 8 vehicles that were destroyed and as you heard the company will pay for all the damages caused by the blast. We now have more interviews from other residents whose houses were destroyed and who were hurt in the explosion. We also spoke to a woman who had to rush her comatose brother to the hospital.
Marlin Guerra - Resident
"I was coming from 5 o'clock from down yonder and I see they had some boys right there and they told me that I can't go to my house and then when I see the explosion come and when I see a lot of stones I start to run and a stone caught me on my back and then a next one caught me on my head."
"So you were walking up this way when the explosion happened?"
"Yes and then I start to run and I cover under a tree but I done get hot already."
Juanita Vanegas - Resident
"I could tell you my house damaged bad inside, everything is damaged in there, nothing is good in the house and what hurt us is that we lost everything."
"This is pretty much a new house you have here right?"
"Yes ma'am, my just complete 7 months the 6th of December so that hurt me and I cried when I saw it yesterday."
"You worked hard to get that new home."
"Yes ma'am and I don't know about the rest of neighbors but I'm so angry because I don't know why they would come do that in public like that."
"Where were you when the explosion happened?"
"Well I down at the bottom of the hill when the explosion happened and I got this injury on my leg."
"So just explain to us what happened yesterday, you said you had a brother who is in a coma in this same room as you were telling me what happened yesterday."
Karen Dawson - Resident
"He lies on a hospital bed right here, there is an oxygen tank here, there is a suction machine on that side, he's been comatose for the last 6 and a half weeks from a motorcycle accident so literally this is where the roof caved in and he was covered in debris, rocks, dust, everything. I was literally in the kitchen cooking something for him to eat because he has 6 feedings per day and it was about time to feed him and I thought the blasting was finished because it was almost a couple hours before anything else happened. So I went and I put on the stove and when the first blast happened I literally left from the door to the kitchen counter and the door blew up and the bottom of the door blew open so I was right in that path. Then I ran in here and looked at him and that's when the stuff came through the roof."
"He wasn't injured? None of the rocks or stones fell on him?"
"He had stuff on him because the rocks and he was red all over his ribs but he has a tracheostomy too that was open and all the dust and stuff you know and in his nose and stuff."
Contracting Company Tells Homeowners To Send In Their Bills
So, as you've seen, the unprecedented event has left Cayo residents shaken. Tonight, Belize Roadway Company, which is the company that contracted Tiger Aggregates to do the explosion, estimates that there are an estimated 14 houses with significant damages and 20 other houses with minor damages.
Their attorney Rachel Montejo told us via phone that the company will immediately assist affected residents with funds to undertake repairs:
Rachel Montejo - Attorney, Belize Roadway Construction
"It was like 10 vehicles damage and approximately 14 houses with significant damages and 20 other houses just with minor damages with roofing and those roofs will be for the most part replaced but the company will not go out and physically put it on. What they can do is to receive the costing as long as it is reasonable to pay it out to the person that receive the damage then they hire their construction person to go and get it done as soon as possible. The company is aware that the weather is changing so at this very time they are in their offices trying to do some purchase orders so that the first thing tomorrow these roofs will have some time of coverage, interim coverage; just for them to not have water damage inside and cause any further discomfort to the persons living in the home. The client wishes to mitigate any further loses by residence who were in the immediate vicinity and my client has informed me that they are not accepting liability however they will be paying for the lost or damage to these homes. By no means is my client trying to leave anyone out in the cold without a proper roof or without proper windows or whatever the case may be."
Affected persons should take their claims to Montejo's office in Unitedville Village or you can call her office at 671-0085. Belize Roadway Construction has insurance, but it would take some time to process individual claims, so the company is making up front payments out of its own resources.