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Jan 24, 2006

Flooding cuts off Western Highway…

Story PictureWeather is often a news maker in Belize, running the gamut from hurricane to drought. Tonight’s big story is flood. Generated by unseasonably heavy rains in the northern half of the country, rising waters cut off the frequently travelled Western Highway between Belize City and Belmopan for much of the day. News Five’s Jacqueline Woods was one of hundreds stranded just east of Belmopan. Without so much as a pause to change into dry clothes she filed the following report.

Cadet Henderson, Chief Engineer, Ministry of Works
?I?d say this must have been more than three inches of rainfall in the catchment upstream of this river. Roughly every two to four years we experience this. This is considered the number one traffic stopper on the Western Highway.?

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting
The flash flood affected the section of the Western Highway between miles forty-three and forty-six by Mount Pleasant Creek. This bus and truck was no match for the fast moving water as both vehicles were swept off the road. Fortunately, none of the drivers and passengers were injured. The road was then closed to all vehicular traffic.

Tirso Galvez, Operations Officer, Min. of Transport
?As you are aware, they had a James bus and a Coca-Cola truck, which the water actually washed off [the road]. They were heading towards Belmopan and due to the heavy currant that took the bus across, we were not allowing anybody to go across until the water actually receded.?

For more than two hours, vehicles were backed up on both sides of the highway, although some passengers decided to cross the flooded highway on foot. It was a slow and challenging walk across the swift moving water, but everyone made it safely to the other side…including this reporter who relied on the steady stride of my co-worker, Stephen Ferguson.

Each person left stranded along the highway coped with the situation in his or her own way. But after several hours of waiting, patience was in short supply.

Ann Zuniga, Stranded Teacher
?We dismissed school from St. Matthews. They call us to let the children go home and I?m heading to Belmopan because I live in Belmopan. I?ve been standing here for about twenty minutes now waiting patiently for the water to go down.?

Jacqueline Woods
?How do you plan to cross??

Ann Zuniga, Stranded Teacher
?I don?t know as yet. I saw a tractor passing by; probably I?ll take one of that.?

Ezekiel Manzanero, Stranded Motorist
?Well I am coming from Belize and twenty to twelve I reach here and it was high, so we just have to wait until this time.?

Jacqueline Woods
?Where are you headed??

Ezekiel Manzanero
?West, San Ignacio.?

Jacqueline Woods
?I noticed you are travelling in a small car, how do you plan to cross??

Ezekiel Manzanero
?Well probably this high loader might tow me across. I asked and they said they can give me a hand, so I?ll try it.?

The water finally started to recede and high clearance vehicles were allowed to cross… but officials were not taking any chances.

Cadet Henderson
?I would suggest that motorists exercise extreme caution. Like right now here we have a bus filled with cruise ship passengers and I refused to have this bus drive over as it is. We just rescued a bus that got pushed off the road, so this gentleman here will provide us with a loader that I will instruct to escort the bus. And I?ll have to have a verbal talk with them so they are aware that they are doing it at their own risk.?

The heavy machinery also ferried people across the flooded highway. Of course if the rains keep up, the highway may once again be closed. In the meantime, Chief Engineer Cadet Henderson says there is a plan to address future incidents.

Cadet Henderson
?I assume more that than more than fifty percent of the runoff from Belmopan passes through Mount Pleasant, which is at this location. And so even though we have very large culverts here, it is overwhelmed and this year we propose to put a small bridge, a forty-five foot span bridge in this vicinity.?

Jacqueline Woods for News Five.

As of five-thirty this evening the Ministry of Works reports that the water has receded from the Western Highway at mile forty-six and the road is open to all traffic.

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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