Santa Elena residents were quite literally shaken up this evening when this happened within town limits this evening. It was an explosion at a quarry on a white mall hill in the Santa Cruz area. According to reports, the quarry owners were trying to break up a boulder - but things went very wrong. Sketchy reports say that nearby residents had their windows shattered as a result of the explosion. Unconfirmed reports say that a man may have also been killed - which we are tying to confirm at this hour. We do know there were injuries from huge flying rocks. The San Ignacio Police and Fire Departments are in the area at this time. This news just broke - and we'll be working on getting more information during tonight's newscast.
There is now footage emerging which shows that dramatic explosion in San Ignacio this evening. Again, it happened at about 5:30pm this evening, when Tiger Aggregate a road construction company blasted the hillside of a white marl quarry in the Santa Cruz area in the process of mining for material. The blast was overdone and it reportedly resulted in the death of a 70 year old Canadian Manager of Tiger Aggregate Company Ltd. Several houses in the area were badly damaged with food shattered and windows blown.
More Disturbing Explosion Images Flooding In
There are more very disturbing images coming out of Senate Elena Cayo right now - in the wake of that major explosion this evening around 5:30. We have received images which show how large stones punctured the roofs of various homes - and in some cases, completely destroyed the zinc roofing. Indeed, some of the images look like a tornado or a hurricane passed through. And we can say with certainty that there is major residential damage. These are homes in the area of the explosion.
We also saw a huge stone deposited in the back of an SUV - whose glass is completely shattered. A very devastating fallout tonight in Santa Elena town and, again, there are solid reports which say one man has died. UDP Chairman Alberto August reports that "Tiger Aggregate a road construction company blasted the hillside of a white marl quarry in the Santa Cruz area in the process of mining for material." August adds that the explosives technician increased the explosive to a heavier load. He reports that the blast resulted in the death of, a 70 year old Canadian who Manages Tiger Aggregate Company Ltd.
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.
A team has been on the ground assessing the damage in the Santa Cruz area of Santa Elena - this is after Tuesday evening's massive quarry blast. The explosion killed Tiger Aggregates Ltd owner Ronald Sutherland, injured 5 persons and wrecked homes and vehicles. At this point, Belize Road Construction Ltd - who contracted Tiger Aggregates to do the blast, is focused on getting the residents back in the comfort of their homes before Christmas. But there are still many questions as to who granted the company permission to blast in this residential area. Well, very important to note, Inspector of Mines from the Mining Unit, Michelle Alvarez says the unit did not grant any license to blast in this area. In fact, they had no idea this was happening until after the deadly explosion. She says the unit normally advises against blasting especially in residential areas. Alvarez says that she and her team are still conducting their own investigation.
So while the investigation and damage assessments continue, it is also important to look closer at what caused the explosion. As you heard in our story last night, it was caused by some human error. Today at the police press briefing, Retired Lt. Col. James Requena elaborated on these costly on-site mistakes.
Lt. Col. James Requena, Retired BDF "Tiger Aggregates under the ownership of the late Ronald Sutherland was contracted by Belize Road Construction to do a quarry extraction, materials to be extracted to be used by the company, Mr. Sutherland has 30 years plus experience in doing blasting."
"So he is a certified and qualified experience blaster, along with him there were two certified blasters, Mr. Timoteo Chiac and Mr. Carlitos Alford who were also blasters were licensed and certified to conduct so the incident as seen was a planned and coordinated incident. What transpired is an unfortunate incident. In explosive terms an incident is something that occurred as a consequence of something going wrong. There was an initial partial blast which was rectified by Mr. Sutherland and his team and subsequent the secondary blast was a much larger which projected or flung the stone particles at a further distance than estimated. This may occur for 2 reasons, human error or as a consequence of the type of explosives or the quantity used."
"The issue with this specific incident was that there was an initial partial blast and in order to rectify that you have to recover those items that were still within the quarry in doing so you can either physically remove them or if there is a possibility that they are active, you can add subsequent charge to conduct the second charge. What transpired under the supervision of Mr. Sutherland only he can tell us, we can only assume or speculate that he added a subsequent charge for the secondary blast."
Courtney Weatherburne, reporter "So again it is two angles, human error he should not have been so close and then also he should not have put too much charge.."
Lt. Col. James Requena, Retired BDF "But the precaution he took was to ensure his assistants and all the residents were outside the area his being there, after 30 years we can't say why he chose to be at that spot at that date."
Supt. Richard Rosado, OC - Cayo Police "The commissioner of police has put together a inter agency team to investigate what had occurred and upon completion the file will be forwarded to the DPP for advice."
As you heard, the first error was the overpowered charge and of course Sutherland's decision to stay in the danger zone. As it relates to the residents, police say the residents were taken 800 meters away from the blast - that is what prevented more fatalities. And in terms of compensation for the residents the attorney for BRC told us this evening that they are going house to house, getting repair estimates.
Ministry of Works Has Central Culpability in Cayo Explosion
Who's to blame for what went wrong with the explosion at a Santa Elena quarry last week? Well, documents on the Department of the Environment website, show that the Ministry of Works played a central role.
The mining explosion is part of the roadworks for the paving of miles 48 to 80, a project spearheaded by the Ministry of Works.
The Ministry had to file an environmental compliance plan - and a review of that document shows that the Ministry was in open violation of many of the requirements.
Under the heading "earth movement activities," it says that they must obtain proper licenses and permits from the Mining Unit to operate quarries. As we now know, so permit was obtained for last Tuesday's explosion.
Second, there is a provision which makes it clear that quarry sites must not be in the vicinity of human settlements. This one was in a town.
Many other clear conditions of the plan were ignored, including basic safety regulations. But, the Ministry of works still approved the site violating its own Compliance plan.
And this puts the Minster of Works Rene Montero in an interesting position, since, ultimately, the failure to observe safety protocols rests with him. But he is also the area representative, and now the point-man to deliver relief supplies to is constituents who were affected.
The issue of whether or not Belize Roadway Construction needed a license for a quarry blast in Santa Cruz, Santa Elena, is still controversial. As we told you, the head of the Mining Unit says that a license is needed to blast - especially when it's in a residential area. Well, Works Minister Rene Montero and his team maintain that no license was needed and they referred us to a section of the mining act that speaks to their position. Chief Engineer Lennox Bradley also added that under this act, the construction company had every right and freedom to blast wherever they see fit to ensure the success of the road works.
Hon. Rene Montero, Minister of Works "As far as I know every single individual who was affected was adequately compensated."
Reporter "Do you still maintain that no license was needed?"
Hon. Rene Montero, Minister of Works "According to the mining act, there was no need for any license."
Courtney Weatherburne, reporter "We spoke to the head of Mining Unit and she mentioned that the unit did know about this, they were not aware of any activity in this area and according to the law, there should have been some license issued by the Mining Unit and they did not issue that license."
Hon. Rene Montero, Minister of Works "Well I can re-iterate that there was no need for a mining license according to the mining act."
Reporter "You have houses around, you have residents around, you should have used your discretion better to prevent this from happening."
Hon. Rene Montero, Minister of Works "Yes but we took all the necessary precautions to ensure there was minimal damage."
Lennox Bradley, Chief Engineer, Ministry of Works "A requirement in the contract is to ensure that materials compliant with the specifications are used on the project. The contractor have the right to explore all avenues to get material that will satisfy the specifications in the contract. That was what the contractor was doing, BRC - Belize Roadway Construction. They identified that path, Ministry of Works has had access to that site from the late 1980's and we gave the go ahead to do exploratory works there."
"We will not hinder their progress if they identify a site that is granted to the Ministry of Works for use, it is a public road. I have two laws of Belize; the Public Roads Act that gives the Minister of Works and the chief engineer the authority to sourced material from any land. That is the public roads act. Then you have chapter 226, the mining act that also makes provisions which the Honorable Minister made reference to that once it's a public road and it's a government department we do not need to get that mining act to do exploratory investigations there."
That section of the mining act which you saw in the story, was taken from a document entitled "Report on the Countrywide Investigation on Burrow Pits for the Ministry of Works Government of Belize." As you heard from Montero, all the residents have been compensated for the damage that the botched quarry blast caused.