Ambergris Caye, 12/11/98
We Weathered Mitch on Ambergris Caye
by George Parham, J P.
For days my wife Marie, Samuel Gonzalez and myself tracked Mitch as it rampaged over the Caribbean Sea and spread its destructive winds for hundreds of miles around. Then came the day when the Government declared voluntary evacuation of Ambergris Caye. My wife, Sam and myself held a quick conference that morning and decided to leave for the mainland of Belize. We had already foreseen such an order from the Government and we boarded up windows and so we were ready to leave. Clothes and other necessary belongings had been packed and we headed for the airport. But evacuation was not to be for us. As we started to leave, after locking doors, a group of people, 12 in all including two babies, stopped us and asked if we could give them asylum in our hotel as they could not evacuate San Pedro Town and had no place of safety in which to stay. After thinking it over and talking it over amongst ourselves, we decided that the humane thing to do was to give those people asylum in our hotel. So we unlocked our doors and gave the refugees a room in which to stay. Then we continued to take in more refugees in our other rooms. It was the right thing to do.
Then it became a hurricane watch for us and a watch for the welfare of our guests. Our hands were full. It was electrical problems, water problems, food problems and on and on - more problems than we ever experienced with guests' problems in our hotel. One of my rooms held Mr. Woody Canaday and his wife and a few others and they are wonderful people who opted to help and their concern was for the fine police group that stayed behind with us. They cooked for the police and catered to some of their needs as we did.
And the winds blew and the rains fell in torrents continuously accompanied with squalls of enormous proportions - one such squall one night scared the daylights out of us for I know the winds topped hurricane force, but, as it turned out, we seemed to be snug in our fortress hotel with our refugees, though very concerned.
The sun did not show its face and the skies were constantly dark - sometimes during the day, like night. Yes, we were scared, for constantly we could hear the clatter of the plywood and zinc that covered our windows as the rain and salt spray was driven against them and when day overcame the blanket of night we could see the monstrous waves rolling towards shore bringing with them sections of pier and other debris.
My dear wife took care of the Hotel and Samuel and myself helped in the field as best we could. We helped a few people who had stayed in the San Juan area salvage some of their belongings. With golf carts we helped the brave Police patrol, keeping down looting. On some occasions we collected food, and distributed some from Patty Arceo's headquarters at the Tropic Air offices. Those volunteers at Patty's headquarters deserve high praise as does Patty Arceo and her father, Francisco, John Eiley, our Mayor, his Lordship Alberto Nuñez, Inspector Orio and the police in general and others who faced Mitch head-on.
And as we patrolled in golf carts in water up to the batteries, we could see the devastation in the San Juan Area and past the Belize Yacht Club. Rivers of water developed and actually flowed from the beach to the lagoon. And we found one place on the beach where looters destroyed and stole property. It was the Howard Johnson home. They had broken windows in the front and the seas came in through the windows and inundated the inside of the first floor. Things were stolen, but the able police apprehended some of the looters and arrested them. And so it went.
But finally Mitch had spent its fury and the winds and rain abated and slowly things returned to normal. And soon the following day people began to return to normal. And soon the following day people began to return to the island. Our guests went back to their homes and then the clean-up commenced.
Samuel and I took down plywood and zinc that had covered our windows and cleaned up the hotel compound in general. Then as best we could we furnished a golf cart with a trailer and helped clean up mostly in the vicinity of Samuel's hotel and the Sanpedrano Hotel. It was a little rough, but it could have been much worse if God had not chosen to spare our little island the full fury of Mitch.
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