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Feb 21, 2008

Officials inspect hurricane shelters countrywide

Story PictureWith the blue skies and steady breezes that mark the onset of the dry season, the thoughts of most Belizeans are hardly focused on hurricanes. But that’s exactly what officials of the National Emergency Management Organization are thinking about this week. News Five’s Kendra Griffith has the story.

Kendra Griffith
On Wednesday, Minister of National Emergency Management, Melvin Hulse, kicked off a nationwide assessment of the hurricane shelters, starting in the Corozal District. Hulse made stops in Copper Bank, Sarteneja, Chunox, and Progresso. Accompanying the new minister on his rounds is Coordinator of NEMO, Col. George Lovell.

Col. George Lovell, Coordinator, NEMO
“Annually we inspect all shelters, but for this time since we have a new administration, our minister wants to personally visit each of these shelters and get a first hand view and knowledge of what exists and the standards that it is in.”

“We are starting with the coastal communities, the most vulnerable areas. We were in Corozal yesterday, we are in Belize today. We intend to go down south sometime next week, as early as Tuesday to the Stann Creek district and then on to the Toledo District.”

The old capital has twelve shelters and we caught up with the NEMO crew as they inspected the building at St. Michael’s College.

Kendra Griffith
“Are there any recurring problems that you are seeing in the buildings that you have visited so far?”

Col. George Lovell
“Yes, maintenance. Those windows, those are some of the problems. Bathroom facilities not being up kept, those are the types of things we are looking at.”

For some residents, those repairs may not be enough as they believe no shelter in Belize City is able to withstand a major category four or five hurricane.

Col. George Lovell
“This new administration has new standards and they have their views as to what they would want to see achieved and as soon as we finish that we will be able to say if we will have people sheltering in Belize, but I need to say upfront that we have identified a few buildings where people can evacuate to and be safe during hurricanes. But at the end of this task finding that we are doing, we are taking stats, we will be able to assess what we can and cannot use and we will decide if we should have some compulsory evacuated areas.”

Another perennial hurricane season complaint is that of sanitation for persons housed within the shelters. Lovell says that’s also on the “to-fix” list.

Col. George Lovell
“Most of the schools, especially in Belize City, have their bathrooms in the lower flat of each of these shelters that we have and it is a concern. We are looking at ways that we can remedy this, putting interconnecting doors for example from one room to the next that leads to the bathrooms and to even construct in those areas where we don’t have bathrooms in those buildings, bathroom facilities.”

And with the June first start of the hurricane season staring them in the face, the minister and his staff has their work cut out for them.

Col. George Lovell
“It means that we have two months to get out there, hit the ground running, doing our assessment, find out exactly what exists and what needs to be fixed and get them fixed as much as we could. We won’t be able to do everything, but we will do as much as we could.”

After completing the coastal assessment next week, the shelter tour will move inland. Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

Lovell says they are also assessing buildings that are currently not being used as shelters to see if the structures can qualify as safe refuge.

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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