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May 31, 2005

2005 hurricane season should be active

Story PictureAnother young man was shot to death on the streets of Belize City last night, several robberies, a rape and burglary were reported, and this afternoon two men accused of a 2003 murder were acquitted in the Supreme Court. But we’ll lead our newscast tonight with a story that, while less spectacular, may be more crucial to our future: that is, the 2005 hurricane season. It officially opens tomorrow…and with the Caribbean in the midst of a period of intense storm activity… all eyes are looking to sea. Jacqueline Woods reports.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting
All indications are that once again it will be a very active hurricane season. Just how many of those storms will threaten our neighbourhood is anybody?s guess, but we are all being advised to be prepared.

Carlos Fuller, Chief Meteorologist
?Really the best thing would be, tonight sit down and write down your hurricane plan. We take it for granted, but it is always better to put it down on paper. Make sure you have a plastic bag where you?re going to put your passports, your birth certificates, your land papers, your insurance forms and so on in a plastic bag so that you can grab that with you if you have a evacuate. Have a box with canned vegetables that you had bought throughout the year. You don?t need to spend everything right away, but if you buy one or two tins every week, every month, condense milk and so on, you?ll have it ready for you in the event we need to call an emergency.?

Already this year, freak storms that hit both the Corozal and Cayo districts demonstrated that many structures are in need of reinforcement. Unfortunately, consulting engineer Carlton young says that the best time to hurricane-proof your house is when you build it.

Carlton Young, Consulting Engineer
?Think about hurricane resistance before you build your house. Remember that it?s far cheaper to plan to build a hurricane resistant house than to try to make an already built building hurricane resistant; and definitely cheaper than to try to repair a damaged building.?

?One of the big things with these metal roofs is to make sure that they are properly secured to the timber framing. So what you could do is just go up there yourself or get a contractor to go up there, check your nailing, or if you have roofing screws, that?s even better. But check to make sure that your nails aren?t rusty and that your nails are close enough and that all corners especially have close nailing.?

?Generally if you have metal louvers, we would still recommend that you shutter them up, and the wooden louvers tend to perform quite poorly. So you want to shutter your windows unless you have wood batten windows. And again, even if you have the wood batten windows, as in the case with the doors, you need to make sure that it?s locked properly and that the hardware for locking it is adequate.?

In this part of the world, hurricanes peak around the tenth of September. In fact, Chief Meteorologist Carlos Fuller says fifty percent of the hurricanes that hit Belize have occurred in September. Fuller says the hurricane experts, especially Professor William Gray at Colorado State University, are predicting a busy season.

Carlos Fuller
?Bill Gray in particular believes that this year we will have about fifteen tropical storms, of which nine will develop into hurricanes, four of them of intense categories; that is category three, four or five. So indeed we are expecting another active year this year.?

Since the serious threat of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Belizeans have generally remained vigilant. But because ninety percent of hurricane fatalities come from storm surge and not wind, we are particularly vulnerable. Fuller says that if you live along low-lying areas, the best thing to do is move inland if a storm threatens to strike.

Carlos Fuller
?Once you are inland, however, make sure that you?re in a shelter that has shutters on its windows and doors, make sure the roof is securely fastened. And as we noticed during those freak storms that hit Corozal and San Ignacio a couple weeks ago, some of those roofs are not really well anchored, so in a hurricane those also would have gone.?

?Be prepared where water, can food and so on are concerned. And please don?t wait until we issue the first phase of the hurricane plan. Try to buy a tin or two every week when you buy your groceries. Buy so much Spam or potted meat or spaghetti or whatever and keep it aside. It won?t spoil and in November if you haven?t used it then you can have a big party.?

The Belize Met Service has been doing its part to be prepared. Unfortunately, the radar is still down after being out of commission for almost two years, and there are no guarantees that the equipment will be operational in three months time. However, our forecasters are able to track storm systems through various websites that use satellite imaging.

Carlos Fuller
?This year we had one of our forecasters go to the Hurricane Centre, she worked with the forecaster at the Hurricane Centre for two weeks, getting briefed on how we track hurricanes, how we issue the bulletins, in addition, how we deal with the media. Because it is useless for us to be at the Met Office, knowing what it going to happen if we can?t relay that to the public through the media. So indeed we are also doing training in that area of getting the message out to the public.?

?We need to look at the international media, The Weather Channel, CNN; BCC does a great job in their graphics in showing how hurricanes are moving and so on. We need to use that. But in addition, we need to use the local information that we have here that you won?t see on the Weather Channel, that you won?t see on CNN. We will be telling you what shelters are good, where you need to go, what time to move and so on. So we need to look at those things everyday, once a day, just to see how activity is in the region.?

Throughout the coming months, the Belize Weather Service will be holding a number of awareness campaigns to help Belizeans prepare. Jacqueline Woods for News Five.

In a clarification to a story we ran last week on that freak storm in Cayo, the National Emergency Management Organisation has informed us that two Santa Elena schools that suffered damage on Thursday were not in fact official hurricane shelters. According to a NEMO release, that designation was withdrawn from the buildings at least five years ago when inspections revealed they did not satisfy the requirements for shelters.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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