Utility Report, also a glimpse at Hotels, Restaurants and Airlines of Ambergris Caye

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 37            October 9, 2000

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When a Category Four hurricane strikes, it is like beginning from scratch when it comes to restoring most utilities. Think of throwing a hundred pieces of yarn or string into a ceiling fan on high speed - get the point? Keith took with it many residences, several businesses and unfortunately claimed the lives of some unfortunate few; may they rest in peace.

    San Pedro has gone back in time to become a place temporarily without electricity, water, cable and city water. To the older generation this is not a big tragedy but to the younger generation it is a catastrophe. The utility companies in San Pedro are doing their best to find solutions to these challenges and the results are already showing. The public is being asked to be patient as the harm caused by this natural disaster called Keith includes a large portion of San Pedro. Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) told the San Pedro Sun that about 98% of the total  electrical hardware on the island was damaged. The damage was done to all aspects - lines, transformers, poles; the works. To make things progress faster BEL has increased the working staff in San Pedro to include nine from Belize City and eight from Corozal and more recently nine from Fortis Incorporated of Canada. They are working daily from seven in the morning to six in the evening and sometimes until ten at night. Work commenced immediately after the hurricane and by Wednesday, one day later, all of Barrier Reef Drive regained electricity. Mr. Chris Nuñez, Works Coordinator for San Pedro, explained that their main priority is to have the electricity restored in the town core that extends from San Pedro Roman Catholic School to the Boca del Rio area. The target time for this, Mr. Nuñez explained, is two weeks but may vary due to their resources. They will then move on to Coconut Drive traveling south of San Pedro and then to North Ambergris Caye. To speed up the work, bucket trucks and dirt diggers are being shipped from Belize City. BEL is asking the public to be patient and to assist by giving them space while they work, especially when they are on Barrier Reef Drive. BEL assures us that they will be doing everything in their power to help San Pedro be an "electrifying town" very soon.

    Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) has reported that both the regular telephone service and the cellular service were completely interrupted. Their tower in San Pedro fell and over 75% of external plant infrastructure was destroyed. Poles have also fallen and therefore lines connected to residences and businesses were torn down. BTL has already installed fixed cellular units at the BTL office to provide some level of communication in the area. NEMO and the Medical Emergency Clinic at the San Pedro Health Clinic have also been provided with the same type of temporary solution to assist them with their emergency plans. Approximately ten crew members have been dispatched for line and plant restoration on the island. Plans are already underway to erect a temporary tower and restore the transmission link to Belize City. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, BTL plans to restore cellular service in San Pedro by the end of the week. At the same time, it is likely that international access will be available to the areas of San Pedro that have line access.

    Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) is also working furiously to remedy the water situation. For starters, they have increased their work crew to speed up the process. Testing and flushing of lines is being done from South Ambergris Caye, all the way to Ramon's Village. The general public is asked not to drink the water at first and to chlorinate it for bathing as well (one half tablespoon Clorox per five gallons). Residents are advised that WASA is responsible for damaged lines running up to the meter. Anything between the meter and the house is the responsibility of the homeowner.

    The San Pedro Town Council is also doing a phenomenal job trying to rebuild San Pedro. In speaking with Mayor Alberto Nuñez and Councilor Domingo Perez, they mentioned that their main priority at this point is to shelter and feed the many people who have been greatly affected by Hurricane Keith. They will also help rebuild an estimated 67 homes and provide zinc and plywood to help others whose homes have been damaged. They will first focus on the densely inhabited areas of Ambergris Caye. Mayor Nuñez has met with Prime Minister Musa of Belize and the Ministers of Works, Local Government, Tourism and Security, who have all offered their assistance. Already trucks and heavy equipment including generators and loaders have been brought to San Pedro. The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) has dispatched hundreds of military personnel including British and American soldiers, members of the Belize Defense Force and Dragon Unit to provide security, assist with food and clothing distribution and to help with other needed tasks. Mayor Nuñez continued by saying that presently there is a shortage of fuel on the island and he asks vehicle owners to conserve this precious commodity  as much as possible. He calls on the people of San Pedro to help in the clean up. All residents and vehicle owners are asked to keep out of the way if they are not willing or able to help; much more can be accomplished by not hindering the ones who are working. If everyone does their part, Mayor Nuñez estimates that the cleaning of the entire town can be achieved in a period of one month. He reiterated that this is a serious matter and although we survived this disaster we should not think we are out of the woods. He commented, "We still have to provide food, shelter and medical assistance to many. I ask the community to have patience. We know everyone is suffering but we need to be patient. Slowly but surely, we will get back on our feet."

A glimpse at Hotels, Restaurants and Airlines of Ambergris Caye

    When Hurricane Keith set its sights on Ambergris Caye the hurricane force winds, rains and accompanying storm surge battered resorts and restaurants in all areas of the island. Eyewitness accounts of some of the resorts and restaurants that were in the storms path are listed below. We were unable to contact some owners at press time to see what their plan of action was, exact damage and what their tentative opening dates would be. The list is simply to let residents on the southern end of the island know a little about what is going on with on the northern end and vice versa. 1) Casa Caribe - The dive shop was washed away and the resort suffered some water damage. A tree also fell on the office. 2) Green Parrot - Seemed to suffer little or no damage. 3) Mata Chica - This chic resort was reported to be the hardest hit of the group. The damage seems to stem mostly from the Tahitian style roofs being blown away causing water damage to several of the rooms and to the restaurant. 4) El Pescador is open for business. 5) Journey's End - Mostly roof damage. 6) Rendezvous Restaurant - Shingles blown off the roof seemed to be the only apparent damage visible from the outside. 7) Essene Way - Lost their solar panels and had several windows broken. 8) Captain Morgan's Retreat - Suffered moderate damage, should reopen in about a month according to the manager. 9) Capricorn Resort - Was open and feeding northern residents. Cannot confirm if they are still open for business. 10) Palapa Bar - Minimal damage. 11) Sweet Basil - No apparent damage. Please remember these are only outside visual accounts, we hope to bring you a confirmed update as soon as possible.

    Some of the resorts we inspected on the southern end showed: Paradise Villas suffering roof damage; Mayan Princess is housing the crew from BEL and is o.k.; Holiday Hotel had some water damage but is open for regular business and is renting rooms; SunBreeze Hotel minimal damage and is housing guests; The Palms had no damage that a little paint and hard work cannot fix; Ramon's Village had the roofs of three of their units damaged and their beautiful landscaping destroyed but the pool suffered no damage. Assistant Manager Einer Gomez is confident the resort will be up and running smoothly in approximately six-weeks time. Mr. Gomez also commented on the hearty tourists who sat out the hurricane bunkered in the restaurant refusing to leave until the gift shop was opened so they could get a Ramon's t-shirts as a souvenir of their experience; The Belize Yacht Club had many tiles gone from their roofs but we have not confirmed if there was more damage; Banyan Bay had tiles lifted from the roof but we have not confirmed if any other damage occurred; Royal Palm seemed to come through the hurricane in good fashion; Victoria House suffered some extensive damage but the managers are optimistic that they will be able to accommodate limited guests by the end of the month, with the bar and restaurant being fully functional at that time.

Local Airlines

    "At sunset on Friday I was on a pier in Cancun looking south at the sky noticing the clouds racing across the sky and the colors, and it reminded me of sitting on the veranda of Holiday Hotel watching the very same thing happen," said Steve Shulte of Tropic Air. Mr. Schulte was in Cancun on a business trip and the memory he was speaking of is when Hurricane Gilbert devastated Cancun years earlier. It had exactly the same characteristics as when we watched Gilbert forming, he commented. The storm that he was watching form, unfortunately, cost Tropic Air one of the planes in their fleet, with damage to four of their smaller planes. Fortunately for Belize their four biggest planes suffered no damage and Tropic Air committed them to San Pedro in the aftermath of Keith to fly supplies and people to and from the island. Tropic Air has since resumed scheduled flights to all destinations

    Nando Trejo reported no damage to any of the Maya Island fleet. Maya Island started flights on Tuesday (October 2nd) shuttling people and goods on a first come/first served basis and Thursday resumed regularly scheduled flights to all areas they serve. Because of the hurricane, both Maya Island and Tropic Air were ordered to cease all flights September 30

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