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Aug 4, 2016

Search and Rescue Teams Active as Belize City gets Battered by Storm

City folks began bracing up for the storm since Wednesday morning. Visitors evacuated the islands.  Hundreds moved to shelters in both the north and south sides of the city. More than a thousand persons left their homes for safer ground. But many others chose to remain where they were, putting their lives at risk when the water levels rose dangerously high.  News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

As early as six o’clock on Wednesday morning, islanders and tourists, as well as Belize City residents began seeking shelter, taking heed to the warnings that the then Tropical Storm Earl was to become a category one hurricane before making landfall in Belize.  Thousands of residents made their way to the eleven shelters that were opened across the north and south sides of the city. As the weather conditions began deteriorating further into the day, the threat was more real.

 

Hubert Cacho

Hubert Cacho, Porter, San Pedro Belize Water Express Taxi

“Since this morning, we have been seeing a lot of movements in terms of people coming in so they are actually taking heed. Around six, there were like three boats that came in at the same time; at six-thirty, there were four boats and between seven and seven-thirty there were another like four boats. So there are people that are leaving the islands and taking heed.”

 

Phillip Willoughby, CEMO

“I think there were probably more than eleven hundred persons in the shelters up until last night. I stand to be corrected; it could be more, most definitely. At the last minute, even in doing the search and rescue operations, we still were taking persons to the shelters. So again, in clear and present danger, we exposed ourselves to some serious adverse conditions and risks, but at the end of the day, I am quite satisfied that we maneuvered. There wasn’t, at least to this end, there wasn’t any loss of life.”

 

But hours before the storm made landfall, the various hotlines were congested with distress calls. Persons whose homes were being affected, in some cases completed destroyed, by the sustained hurricane winds that reached up to seventy-five plus miles per hour were trapped either by rising waters or collapsed structures.  The calls started as early as nine o’clock.

 

Phillip Willoughby

Phillip Willoughby

“Last night going into the storm from about nine o’clock going straight through to this point where we are at, I received about four hundred plus texts as it relates to the search and rescue team to perform and execute search and rescue duties. I also received lot of phone calls for us to do the same. We did the best we could have; we managed and we coped. The winds were phenomenally strong, but we still persevered and assisted in doing the search and rescue exercise.”

 

Most adversely affected were residents from the south side of Belize City.  Assistant Commissioner Chester Williams and his officers as well as fire fighters were instrumental in the many rescue missions to help persons who were exposed to the elements.

 

Chester Williams

ACP Chester Williams, Regional Commander, Eastern Division South

“In Belize we began responding to the stress calls as early as nine o’clock and that went right through until four this morning. With the officers out on the streets patrolling sometime after seven, I withdrew my foot and motorcycle patrols because of the inclement nature of the weather at that moment. The streets were beginning to take water and we just went in our vehicle patrols because those officers will have a degree of shelter to be able to be out there while the storm is coming. And it was a part of our operational strategy that at least about an hour to a half before the storm is expected to make landfall in Belize City that we would have withdrawn our mobile patrols so as to remove our officers from the perils of the storm. But with all the stress calls that were coming in our officers were unable to be withdrawn from the streets.”

 

But public officers and volunteers groups from the various N.G.O.s were exposed to the elements and also but their lives in danger. And according to CEMO Coordinator, Phillip Willoughby, although combined they were successful in removing many persons from their homes, residents must not take things for granted.

 

Phillip Willoughby

“I must say though that it was rather difficult to navigate with the waters, the flood the wind. Again that was crazy, but we did the best that we could have done and I think we did exceptionally well. My concern is to residents of Belize City; don’t take these things for granted.”

 

Darrell Bradley

Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor

“One of the things that I was very encouraged by was that many people called the CEMO hotline last night wanting to be evacuated. At certain points, it was difficult for us to dispatch any persons, but we heard reports coming in early this morning that neighbors welcomed family members into their homes and that is the Belizean spirit that we are looking forward to, to bring our country back to one hundred percent operation.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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