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Jan 28, 2010

If Chalillo dam breaks, will NEMO be ready?

28-1-10-22Two major rivers flow through the Cayo District and that makes the area prone to flooding. Today the National Emergency Management Organization tested its preparedness for such an eventuality. NEMO committees, the Red Cross and other agencies converged in the west today for a simulation exercise that started as early as seven o’clock this morning. News Five’s Jose Sanchez headed to San Ignacio and has a report.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

Since the massive 2008 flood that displaced families in the Cayo District, the country has been afflicted with several natural disasters.  The overflow of the Chalillo and the Mollejon that year has encouraged the National Emergency Management Organization to prepare a simulation in case of a break at Chalillo. This morning NEMO’s Cayo headquarters was bustling with emergency response committees.

Al Westby, District Coordinator for NEMO, Cayo

Al Westby

Al Westby

“We are preparing ourselves for the worst case scenario in case if there is a dam breach or anything like that. Presently, we are testing the Cayo flood plan, the BECOL flood plan, the schools such as Santa Elena RC School, Anglican Primary in Cayo, Bullet Tree, Calla Creek, Santa Familia, Cristo Rey and also St. Ignatius High School along with Sacred Heart College.”

Nemo’s Deputy Coordinator, Shelton Deford, gave an outline of which communities would be impacted by a dam break.

Shelton Deford, Deputy Coordinator, NEMO

“What we have here is the Chalillo dam in this area. What we estimate is that when God forbid the dam break, we estimate based on models that the water should flow obviously downstream from the high elevation to the lower areas affecting farms and communities along its path going into Black Rock, going into Cristo Rey, going into Santa Elena/San Ignacio, affecting Bullet Tree, Calla Creek and those communities, then going into Belize River and affecting areas along that path. Communities like Esperanza can be affected all the way out to Spanish Lookout and perhaps Iguana Creek and further downstream along western highway.”

Deford also gave an estimated response time that those communities would have to get to higher ground.

Shelton Deford

“The rough estimate that we’re looking at based on the modeling is between thirty to fifty miles per hour. So in essence people should have, for example, in the Santa Elena/San Ignacio area, at least one hour warning time. Closer to the dam, proportionately you know you have less time. For example, in Black Rock, it is forty-nine minutes. So that’s type of the timing for those two locations.”

The Cayo Emergency Response Rescue Team performed a search and rescued a woman from the Macal River.  The group headed by William Swan, was making sure that thirty members got their feet wet in the exercise.

28-1-10-19William Swan, Cayo Emergency Response Rescue Team

“We have a percentage that is ready. I will not say all it ready but we still continue training. We just started up two branches of our rescue team in the two different villages that we know are prone to floods, which is the Bullet Tree area and Santa Familia. We had a meeting last week, we’re starting a rescue team right now. We’re planning right now to do some training with them. Right now we’re seeking professional trainees from outside to come in and assist us. Our performance, once ih come we know right now it’s more water type rescues we do because it is a dam threat. So we are prepared, we have our vessel on standby, we have our team on standby, our boat captain; so we’re ready to respond to water disasters at this moment and we also have medical people on standby.”

John Bodden

John Bodden

John Bodden, Senior Public Health Inspector, Ministry of Health

“I will be looking at the medical care and public health response. However, the general disaster response I will also be looking at because I am trained in that area as well.”

If the massive walls of Chalillo should fall and millions of gallons of water push towards centers, a warning system will activate at Chalillo, then sirens will blast at communities along the path of destruction.

Shelton Deford

“People should hear the siren and that is why we’re doing this simulation today to test one; does it work? Two; can people actually hear it? Three; how fast do they move from the vulnerable area where they are located to safety? And to see if that system has been informed to the public and general population in those areas.”

Several schools including St. Ignatius High School are being tested for their readiness.

Shailla Lennon, Councillor, St. Ignatius High School

“We will take all our students up the hill. We have a hill entitled Higher Street or Neal Street. It’s a popular street in town and we’ll take the kids up to that street. When we reach at that location, we plan to do a head count to ensure that everybody is there and then we will just be there until the all clear is given or until we feel that it is safe to come down the hill.”

Jose Sanchez

“In the likelihood of an actual dam breakage, this area will be swamped with waters going at fifty miles per hour. You won’t be able to return. Do you have a plan if you have to stay at the top of the hill?”

Shailla Lennon

“Well, that can be a good thing and a bad thing because some of our students live in that area. So for them it would be good. However, we do have students from rural villages, all behind Spanish Lookout and that will pose a challenge for them.”

The Macal remains calm on the surface, but when the swift and deep waters run through, the question is not where you will be? But how you will respond? Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

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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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7 Responses for “If Chalillo dam breaks, will NEMO be ready?”

  1. ian says:

    We were doing good without any Dam in Belize. All the promises the people of Belize got from the Dam is still not accomplished. Why did we need another? All that it is doing is destroying our beautiful environment, and useless money was spent. Our river will never be the same, it is so sad that our generation was the last one to enjoy the river the way it was before these dams were built. Now we have to go to sleep thinking what would happen if the dam wourld break. Is that comfort for the people living in low lying areas? This was and will always be a stupid decision in my mind for building these dams. To the so smart people who said and promise so much, if there is one of them who would answer one question. Is the Dam doing the job that it was promised to the people of Belize that it would do? Please respond, not on my email addressbut on the reply site. Let our people know the truth and please be honest. Thanks in advance.

  2. BELIZEAN PRIDE says:

    LOOKING AT THIS SITUATION, BRINGS IN MIND, WHY DO WE HAVE TO BE ON THE ALERT WHEN PEOPLE OPPOSED TO THE CHALILLO DAM BEFORE. NOW THAT IT’S BIULT WE LIVE IN A FEAR OF ANY FLASH FLOOD WHEN WE COULD HAVE AVOIDED IT IF THE AUTHORITIES SHOULD HAVE LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE. SCHOOL CHILDERN, IMAGINE RUNNING FOR THIER LIFE IN A CASE LIKE THIS, THE LOST OF PROPERTIES. THIS WAS A SENSLESS PLAN WITH NO KNOWLEGE OF THE OUTCOME FOR THE PEOPLE IN CAYO.

  3. ian says:

    To the stupid people in charge and who think they are so smart. Let me give you a simple solution, let the water go even if the river floods for a coupel of weeks. It is better to let the water go now instead of waiting for the dam to break and have no control of the water. We would have a better chance and feel more secure if we would see the water rise instead of going to sleep and not know what would happen if the dam would break. Let the water go and forever forget about the dam, challio dam was not good in the first place and has never served Belize in no way. If you guys need advice let me know and I will be happy to give u so many solutions instead of having a disaster that could easily be prevented and need no panic for our citizens. Do not feel intimidated and for Gods sake listen to the citizens. Belizeans stand up and unite and let us do what we have to do, if it means for us to take over the dam by force let us do it and prevent a disaster. Let us show the government that we are no fool and we are tired of stupid decisions that is putting out life in danger. John Boden and Al Wesby stand up with our people and make a better decison, do not think about the alarm and think about a better solution. Let the damn water go and stop being stuborn.

  4. John Free says:

    Game. Set. Match. Excellent online free article!

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  6. Your site is splendid I will have to read it all, thank you for the diversion from the books!

  7. Superb post – and nifty domain by the way!

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