Thousands of persons in the western corridor as well as parts of the south have been affected by the severe floods brought about by the outer bands of Eta. There has been no loss of life, but there is extensive damage to crops and property. In the west, flood waters are beginning to recede, but today when we headed to the Belize River Valley, we found water gushing into homes as the river begins to spill over to unprecedented levels. Residents are evacuating as quickly as they can, in whichever form they can. Here is Hipolito Novelo with a report.
Hipolito Novelo, Reporting
Rivers and creeks in Belize River Valley have begun to swell. The water continues to rise. Communities such as the villages of Lemonal and Rancho de Dolores are the first to be affected. Houses along the river are under water and residents have lost many of their items to the flood waters. This is the entrance to Rancho de Dolores, the only way in is by canoe. Residents there have been evacuated to shelters as the river which runs through the village continues to rise. The water here is a couple of feet deep. We made our way through with Coast Guard Officers, posted there to assist. Two B.E.L. employees were on duty- cutting down power lines and making sure that residents’ meters were disconnected. They had to hop on canoes to get to the affected homes and climb posts to cut the lines. The sight of the expanding flood waters was jaw dropping. Martina Belisle says she had to quickly move to save her items. We met her outside her home.
Martina Belisle, Flood Victim
“Yesterday in the morning when I open my window when I looked to the gate, I told the children, water is coming and by twelve o’clock the water was already at the back of the house. By eight o’clock last night water was in the house. I finish take out the things out of my house until this morning. We didn’t have any destroyed because everything was taken out dry. So that is the only good thing.”
“How deep the water is right now?”
“Well I don’t know I didn’t go in there. My son went in there, to his waist, to take out the rest of things.”
“So it was overnight that the waters…”
“Yes, over night it came up rapidly. I am sixty-five years old now and all my live I have been living here.”
“Is it the first time you are seeing this?”
“It cam already but not so high.”
Deogracia Smith agrees. She has been living in the village for the past twenty seven years and this time the flood has forced her to seek shelter.
Deogracia Smith, Flood Victim
“We had a lot of high floods but to me this one is more high.”
“Since yesterday and today did you see that dramatic increase?”
“Since yesterday it has increased a lot because last night I slept home but this morning when I woke up it was higher.”
Her neighbour Kay Smith had the same experience. The flood waters quietly crept up on them. Smith’s house is half way under water. As the water continues to rise, she keeps going back and forth to save her belongings.
Kay Smith, Flood Victim
“This morning we had a lot of help from the Coast Guard and members from the village from around out here, they came out to assist to move whatever we can, to save most of our items from the flood.”
“Were you surprised when you woke up this morning?”
“Yes, indeed. Actually I drop asleep and what happened is when my sister work me up I woke up and then I saw that water was already inside. It is still creeping in, it is still rising up at this time. Actually, I saw that. Every ten minutes it rises. It keeps going up and up so I keep on going over to get whatever. Most of my stuff wet up, books and sofa. My refrigerators, my stove, washing machine they couldn’t get those at all. It is stressful.”
Several villagers have taken up shelter at the school. Chairlady Elsita Gillett says that over a dozen houses have been affected by the flood.
Elsita Gillett, Chairlady, Rancho Delores
“We have about seven houses under right now over this side. Over the bridge we have seven house, over that side. Right now we have five house that are affected with the water. We have two which should be affected later on this evening, if anything else. In the shelter right now we have twenty three adults and fourteen children. We have them in the school at this point but as you can see is coming up so we have to move them to the community center. But there is water also coming from the back so if the water comes up to the community center I was advised by NEMO that we will need to move them out to Bermudian Landing or to another center out there.”
A few miles away, in Lemonal Village the river is also swelling. A part of the road leading to the entrance of the village is flooding by the rushing waters. Constancio Perez who has his house along the river says that his house is under four to five feet of water and it is still rising.
Constancio Perez, Flood Victim, Lemonal Village
“Maybe just a few things get damaged water, that is over last night, not during today.”
“Since last night to now, how dramatically has the water increase?”
“It is coming up still yet. Still yet coming. I think it is kind of slowing down now but it is still yet coming because this morning when I got up not my entire yard was under water. But now the entire yard is in water. It is still rising.”
“Is this the first time you’ve seen or experience something like this?”
“This is the fourth time I have seen, 1979, 2000, 2005 and now. 2008 was kind of high but not as high as this.”
And it will get higher. The receding water from Cayo is rising higher in the Belize River Valley. We caught Christopher Banner using a canoe to go to his house and check on his belongings. His house is elevated some four feet off the ground but the water is creeping in.
Christopher Banner, Flood Victim, Lemonal Village
“The water came down pretty fast so between last night and this morning it raised about thirty inches from what I measured with my tape. Right now it is climbing up my floor. So what I pretty much did is get some blocks and stuff to raise up my stuff inside so when the water comes in it doesn’t really damage my stuff. That is how I am trying a few of my things right now. Right now it is still rising. Definitely, it’s rising because this morning it was a little below the floor and right now it is above the floor and it continues to rise.”
Severe flooding is also expected to occur in Scotland Halfmoon, Flowers Bank, Isabella, and Crooked Tree. And with the rising flood waters come the creatures such as snakes an crocs.
“We have seen snakes, a lot of snakes. We were sitting here and one just passed us. Crocodiles, we had two crocodiles submerged at the back there yesterday. So that is the reason why we are trying to get people away from the water.”
Evacuation Operations Underway in Belize River Valley
Tonight, the Belize Coast Guard is carrying out rescue and relief efforts in the Belize River Valley Area. Officers have been deployed to the villages of Rancho de Dolores and Lemonal where the rivers and creeks continue to rapidly rise. Several persons have been evacuated and placed in shelters but the water continues to rise. Operations Officer for the Belize Coast Guard Lieutenant Kenrick Thomas shared details at this afternoon’s briefing.
“Presently the Coast Guard along with NEMO, the Belize Defence Force and the Belize Police Department, BATSUM and local partners are conducting evacuation operations within Rancho Dolores Village, Crooked Tree, Lemonal and also Burrell Boom. We are anticipating that these operations will then transition into humanitarian aid and disaster relief. We also have two vessels assigned to assist with this operation should they be called upon. The EOC was established at the NEMO office in Burrell Boom and we have Lieutenant Bellini on the ground who is coordinating and providing us with that information as the floods goes along. At this time I would like to advise the residents in these communities specifically those in Crooked Tree, Rancho Dolores and Lemonal to take heed in the advisories set out by NEMO and secure their valuables and do the necessary so that they can be evacuated at earliest.”