BELIZE CITY, Mon. Nov. 6, 2020– Hurricane Eta has devastated Central America with historic floods and mudslides, to date killing over 200 persons, since it made landfall in Nicaragua on Tuesday, November 3.
In the Guatemalan highlands, over 150 persons are presumed dead after mudslides caused by the torrential rains buried homes in Queja, Central Alta Vera Paz. About 50 flood-related deaths have been reported in Honduras and Mexico, two of our direct neighbors.
At home in Belize, we also saw monumental floods completely submerge parts of the Cayo District. The Macal and Mopan Rivers were dangerously swollen by the rains, and those torrents rushed forward violently.
The Welcome Center and its surrounding areas were under 8 to 10 feet of water when the inundation reached its peak.
On Saturday, November 7, when Prime Minister Dean Barrow hosted an emergency press conference, the entrance to Benque Viejo Del Carmen was still underwater.
The western approach to the newly constructed Roaring Creek bridge was still impassable, and the Hammock, Bullet Tree, and other low-lying bridges in the Cayo District were under water.
In Hopkins and the surrounding areas, the water rose about 2 ½ feet, totally blocking the Hopkins entrance for some time. Water was still receding in Sarawee village and the surrounding areas as well.
In the Belize District, rains overcame the Krooman Lagoon, flooding yards on Fabers Road and the other communities built in that swampy area.
No major flooding was reported in Punta Gorda.
The historical floods also challenged two of the major utility companies. The CEO of BEL, John Mencias, said that the central portion of the company’s transmission system was affected by the rains. He said that floodwaters reached the transmission lines running over Iguana Creek, a rise of about 25 to 30 feet, thus forcing the company to isolate that portion of the transmission.
The company also had to disconnect customers in areas where floodwaters rose to dangerous levels. Transformers and single service lines were disconnected in San Ignacio and Belmopan, leaving those residents without electricity.
The CEO of Belize Water Services, Alvan Haynes, said that the floods in the west of the country caused some issues. He said that a suspended waterline from a spring in Benque Viejo, which services that area, was washed away, a loss of over $400,000.
Service wells near the San Ignacio river were breached by floodwaters; and the electric water pumps in that area had to be turned off. This caused an interruption of service. Haynes said that rising waters which reached record highs in Belmopan and Roaring Creek also covered wells in that area.
The patch-work carried out at Mile 38 ½ on the George Price Highway in June, after a weekend of rains washed away that part of the major thoroughfare, didn’t hold up. A crater on the road formed early Friday morning.
The Senior Executive Engineer in the Ministry of Works, Irving Thimbriel, said that rushing waters caused “fines”, particle material under the road, to wash away, resulting in the sinkhole.
The highway was blocked off temporarily, but again, a quick fix was put in place to allow the free flow of traffic across the country, and vehicles were back on the road by that evening.
Thimbriel said that a permanent fix is currently in the pipeline, but will take time to complete.
“What we are building are some twelve by twelve precast culverts. We will stay with the forms and we will continue to do projects of a similar nature. It takes a while to build those forms. We took about a month and a half or two months to build those forms, and now it is going to take another month and a half to build the culverts. Right now, we are about nine months away from completing those culverts,” he said.
During the press conference, Minister of NEMO, Hon. Edmond Castro, said that over 80 persons were in shelters and reassured affected persons that all those in need of food, water, and shelter would be taken care of. He urged residents of the Belize River Valley to brace for the incoming flood waters from Cayo.
“I want to say this to the residents in the Belize River Valley area and the Belize District; this volume of water coming downstream out of the Cayo District will eventually, within the next 72 hours or four or five days, find itself in the Belize District,” he cautioned.
On Sunday, floodwaters began to rise in the Mile-8 Community. The residents in these low-lying areas are warned to move to safer grounds. Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to move livestock to higher ground and reap whatever agricultural products they can.
And while Castro told residents that Government cannot replace all lost property, outgoing Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that 10 million dollars would be allocated to the relief effort in the first instance.
NEMO is currently providing relief support to affected citizens with the help of the Belize Defence Force, Coast Guard, and Police Department. BATSUB’s Royal Dragoon Guards have also been approved to lend aid in affected areas; they have since been deployed to Camp Belizario in San Ignacio.
No deaths related to these historic floods have been reported in Belize to date.
The Flood Report and Forecast as of November 7, 2020, has stated that water is steadily rising on the Rio Hondo River and on downstream communities. Levels at the New River at Tower Hill and Caledonia are also rising steadily. Flood levels persist in the San Ignacio area, and water on the Mopan River at Benque Viejo town is now slowly receding.
The river at the Sibun, near Freetown Sibun, has exceeded the historically high levels seen during Hurricane Mitch and continues to rise. Other waterways in that region remain flooded, but are slowly receding.
The Mopan, Macal, and Belize Rivers remain flooded. As mentioned, residents living in the Belize River Valley area and near riverbanks in the Belize District are asked to take all precautions to preserve life and property as the flood water continues to make its way down from the west of the country.
The recent NEMO release issued on November 9 at 10:30 said, “People in Belize Rural Central, the Belize River Valley and those living along the Belize River and Haulover Creek in the city … should take action and move to higher grounds. Do not stay in your home and GET TRAPPED; move to a safe building!”