The numbers vary depending on who you're talking to, but between 450 and 900 people were on Ambergris Caye while Mitch the Hurricane brushed by on its lethal trip to Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Some stayed by choice; some missed the boat.
Those of us who stayed experienced sights and sounds that were at times awesomely beautiful and at other times frighteningly saddening.
As the seas built along the reef, the waves met the coral, producing mountains of white foam with gale-swept pinnacles. Background music for this spectacle was the slow drum beat of the Caribbean meeting the shallows.
Then the surges began. Milk and coffee colored piles of energized water freight-trained onto the shores of the caye. At intervals a rogue wave would speed across the once turquoise water and invade far into beachfront lots and some of the homes on them. Rogue waves hiss, a more ominous sound than pounding surf.
The invasion of homes seemed random. One place would receive very little sand and sea trash while another only two hundred feet away would have calf-deep water and deposits of weed and sand.
Less random were the destruction of docks. From my watch point
in the Banyan Bay area, we could look South and see, little by little, the dock
at Royal Palm succumb until - for the longest time - only the lonely dive shop
stood against the waves. It, too, finally lost its grip on the sea bed and was
Reports from people staying in the town area describe the sounds and sights as docks, dive shops and one over-the-water bar became victims of Mitch. Creaking, screeching, rending, groaning as timbers twisted from their pilings. Several accounts made the death of these buildings sound like a kind of ballet: a shop slowly turning, pirouetting until its supporting limbs gave way.
Humor, tolerance and an amount of stubbornness got those left on the island through what seemed like endless hours. A new pastime was discovered - Name That Dock - as we stood on the beach watching the debris wash by.
Word spread up and down the caye: Palapa Bar is gone; there's a new cut by Bushmaster's; Tackle Box is down; Caribbean Depot may be able to drive their barges right up to their yard now; there's a house destroyed in San Juan. Unlike much of "street talk", these reports were all true.
Through all the hiding of fears, the gathering of water, the cooking and handing out of food, a strong thread of luck remained with San Pedro. Much of town and South had electricity. Telephones worked continuously. Television was constant. Water came back on-line quickly with a minimum of rationing. Police and civilian patrolling was persistent, and looting was curtailed.
Behind these services are a group of unsung heroes. As information is gathered, I hope we can "sung" them. BTL, BEL, San Pedro Cable, WASA, the Police Department and their aides, local government, the airlines and a small number of boat operators; the citizens who provided food for the utility workers and Hurricane Center; those who manned the Center. There are stories here of bravery, of kindness.
We are all grateful to these individuals. Rest well, all of you. Your jobs were more than well-done.
Now, the clean up is underway, accompanied, of course, by a disgusting amount of smug-ness from those who stayed on the island . . . whether they wanted to or not. We did Mitch.
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