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Dec 3, 2010

Red Cross Building burns

For as far back as many can remember, the Belize Red Cross has been the “go-to” organization for victims of disasters. We saw them recently providing generous assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Richard. So who would want to bring down the humanitarian organization and why? Those are the questions that everyone is asking following an early morning fire at its headquarters. The blaze at its offices on the upper flat of a colonial building at corner Gabourel Lane and Daly Street is believed to have been deliberately set at around three-thirty this morning.  News Five’s Marion Ali found officials today recouping in the wake of the blaze.

Marion Ali, Reporting

The building at the corner of Gabourel Lane and Daly Street that houses the headquarters of the Belize Red Cross Society has been standing there for about a hundred years.  But early this morning someone tried to destroy it.  While the exterior shows only smoke damage at the front and one side of the building, the interior of the colonial structure bears a true picture of the extent of the damage.  Almost everything from plastic water cups to office equipment were destroyed by the blaze and officials found strong evidence of arson.

michael middleton

Michael Middleton, Operations Officer, National Fire Service

“In the immediate area we found a can of lighter fluid, we found a screw driver and a window pried open.  So we believe that was where they forced open the window and sprayed in the charcoal lighter and ignited the building. Electrical is definitely ruled out.  Exactly where we found the lighter fluid outside the window, on the inside is exactly where the fire started.”

Lily Bowman, Director, Belize Red Cross

“The whole office area was gone, totally burnt out, all our equipment, cabinets with our records, relief items, stuff that we were getting together for Christmas. The main office was destroyed, the accountant’s office was destroyed, the adjacent office and where the fire did not destroy water and smoke did.”

The only office that was not destroyed was that of the Director, Lily Bowman.  That office sits furthest from where the fire was set, in the front portion of the building.  But while the building is unable to function as the headquarters, the work of the Red Cross will continue, albeit with some adjustments to its programmes for the time being.

Lily Bowman

“As far as our work, helping the needy, the vulnerable, assisting in the Hurricane Richard aftermath that continues. That will not be slowed down, that will not stop. What will be hindered or will be a setback will be the other core programmes, for instance our HIV Department that was totally destroyed.  All our records, equipment, everything, our First AID Department, completely gone, some setback with our finances.”

But who would want to destroy the offices of a non-governmental organization that caters to the indigent?  While she cannot link one thing to the next, Bowman recollects that shortly after Hurricane Richard struck Belize, they had received some threats.

lily bowman

Lily Bowman

“We’re actually feeling very sorry that there was somebody that actually felt the y needed to do this to the Red Cross.  All we do is help people.  However, yes we had an incident when we were distributing relief items right from the headquarters here. We had a crazed mob at our office, we were trying to pacify them, we were trying to tell them you will get help, just please let’s do it orderly.  We were receiving threats, several threats.  However we get this all the time. This was the last thing that we would have expected because they need what we have in here.  We only have relief items in here to help people and our records.”

The Red Cross was not the only non-government organization that was affected by the malicious act.  The lower flat, which houses the headquarters for the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired was also affected by water damage.

Lisa Zelaya, Regional Field Officer, BCVI

lisa zelaya

“Our important documents had gotten wet and some files and the computer had also got damaged, but we’re not so sure because we don’t have any electricity as  yet to tell us how much damage, if the computers are working or not.  So we’re drying off some equipment that had gotten wet.”

Marion Ali

“In terms of the work that you do, will that be delayed in any way?”

Lisa Zelaya

“Not necessarily because the important machine, the embosser hasn’t suffered any damage so we will still continue with our work.”

Meanwhile, to facilitate the restoration of the Red Cross headquarters and the transition back to normalcy, in the coming weeks and months the Red Cross will be working out of office space at the Sisters of Mercy Convent compound on Hudson Street. Marion Ali for News Five.

The damages have been estimated at around three hundred thousand dollars, to the building itself, the equipment and office supplies.  One good note, however – everything was insured.

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1 Response for “Red Cross Building burns”

  1. justice says:

    What a dumb@$$ too do this, some people don’t use their brain if they even have one that is functional. I hope the police had sense enough to get fingerprints from the lighterfluid can. What a tragedy, I hope if anyone hears someone speak of this evil deed that they report them to authoritizes. Shame!

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