Belize Red Cross responds to Tropical Storm Arthur

Published: 4 June 2008 0:00 CET

Allison Ali in Trinidad

Tropical Storm Arthur, the first event of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, pounded several districts of Belize over the weekend causing severe flash flooding and some unconfirmed deaths.

According to reports, there are many stranded individuals calling for evacuation. At least one bridge and part of a highway to the south of Belize have been washed away, and several other major bridges are under water, including one between Belize City and Belmopan. There is also flooding in several northern areas in Belize City. One village has already been evacuated and shelters are open in both Corozal and Orange Walk.

The electricity supply has been turned off in rural areas for safety reasons due to flooding and the submersion of meters. Belize River Valley communities are being flooded and face possible isolation as roads become impassable. The Belize Hydrological Department has warned that conditions are favourable for continued rain and severe weather over the next 24 to 48 hours.

The Disaster Management Committee of the Belize Red Cross has been activated and has been meeting with various representatives from different agencies to discuss their plan of action. Lily Bowman, director general of the Belize Red Cross, has said that all branches have activated emergency plans and are conducting assessments. The Dangriga branch has offered to shelter 40 persons for four days in the branch centre, while the Belmopan chairperson is liaising with the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO).

Bowman explained that the Orange Walk branch is preparing meals for persons in shelters and is delivering food packages to people who are staying with family members or friends. A damage and needs assessment team will travel to the Belize River Valley communities to assess the situation in those communities.

In addition, national intervention teams from Stann Creek branch are carrying out assessments of the situation in that area, including living conditions and needs in shelters.

Bowman said the Red Cross is in constant contact with other organizations in order to coordinate response activities and avoid duplication of efforts. The Norwegian Red Cross is supporting the Belize Red Cross as part of its DIPECHO programme in the Caribbean, and will join the relief operation if necessary.

“We estimate that around 10,000 people are affected and seven people are reported dead. But we cannot say for sure, as we are still assessing the damage and needs at this time,” said Bowman.

It is expected that a Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) allocation of 75,000 Swiss francs will be released by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to support the Belize Red Cross in its relief operations.

The Pan American Disaster Response Unit has deployed a disaster management delegate, and a logistics specialist from the regional intervention team has been deployed to Belize to help with the response.