On Thursday, June 16th, 2005, the Blue Water Grill was filled to capacity as several U.S. residents and business owners turned up for a much anticipated meeting with Deputy Chief of Mission/Acting U.S. Ambassador to Belize, Lloyd W. Moss, and Cindy Gregg, United States Consul. The meeting was of utmost importance as discussions were to be made regarding hurricane evacuation plans and procedures.
Leaflets were given out with specific details regarding hurricane phases and ways to monitor the progress of a hurricane, including a Hurricane Tracking Chart. Ms. Gregg then fielded a question answer session and discussion regarding specific U.S. Embassy procedures.
Afterwards, Jim Janmohammed, chairman of the San Pedro Emergency Committee (NEMO) took the floor. Over the next hour, Janmohammed managed to explain important facts regarding evacuation procedures from the islands. Emphasis was made that evacuation from the islands of San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Turneffe, etc., is extremely important and must be done in the earliest time frame possible. “There is only a small window of opportunity when it comes to evacuations, and it is best when people respond immediately rather than wait until it’s too late.” It’s also extremely important that people react as calmly as possible during these circumstances and respond immediately to the warnings. It’s also wise to follow reports that only come directly from the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), never rumors, as evacuation procedures are a bit different from those in the mainland. According to NEMO, evacuation should start from the first phase of a hurricane, during the “ALERT” phase. U.S. Residents who wish to leave the country entirely should also keep in mind that flights are usually stopped during the hurricane “WATCH” phase – once the winds have hit 40 miles per hour. Plans need to be made to accommodate this fact, namely, a move to the interior of the country is recommended.
On the islands, once the hurricane has neared 83ºW and 15ºN, all flight reservations are cancelled and flights are on a first come, first serve basis. Residents also have to bear in mind that planes have to be grounded at a certain time to ensure safety of the craft and its pilot. Once the hurricane passes the quadrant 85ºW and 20ºN, a hurricane “WARNING” is in effect and the hurricane is likely to strike in a matter of hours. NEMO generally tries to get as many people out of the islands as possible, and warns those who do not leave the island to move to a well built structure. If there are doubts about the residence or building you are in, make sure you have a backup plan, and resort to that plan before danger closes in. And always have a hurricane emergency kit in place in your home and at your emergency residence. Also be sure to have a plan for your pets. If you plan to evacuate with them, ensure that you leave early and not during the rush, when humans take precedence over animals. If your pets need to stay on the island in your home, be sure to leave them with plenty of food and water, and whatever you do, do not tie them up to a fence or in the yard. Pets are better off fending for themselves if they are loose. They have a better chance of survival if they can actually move around looking for shelter.
For those who monitor hurricanes closely, the national Hurricane Center Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration have a continuously updated site, www.nhc.noaa.gov. A NEMO website is also available, www.nemo.org.bz. Via telephone: 226-2011, National Meteorological Office at the International Airport. It also pays to know your warden. In San Pedro, US wardens are Tom Vidrine (226-3245) and Dan Jamison (226-3905). For a list of emergency supplies and tips regarding pets Kindly refer to the article and cutout list in Insert A.
On behalf of all residents, The San Pedro Sun would like to thank Jim Janmohammed for a clear and informative presentation.