Tropical Storm Arthur Causes Flash Floods and Cuts off Southern Belize
5 June 2008, Belize City/ Belize.- Eighty per cent of persons have been impacted in the flood affected regions of Belize following tropical storm Arthur. Prime Minister Dean Barrow in declaring the disaster areas (south west Belize and Stann Creek districts) pointed to the humanitarian impact and the access challenges as a result of significant infrastructural damages caused by tropical storm Arthur and the accompanying heavy rains across Belize. Tropical storm Arthur caused unprecedented flooding as rivers in southern and northern Belize crested their banks and created flash floods particularly in low-lying and coastal areas.
While the economic impact in agriculture has not been so severe, as much of the harvesting had already occurred, almost every family in the affected areas has suffered damages; they face considerable water and sanitation needs, and potential disease outbreaks. They are also struggling with psycho-social trauma after the storm struck in the early hours of Monday morning, taking many by surprise and resulting in several clinging to life until rescue teams arrived hours later. There are five confirmed deaths (three of whom were children) and three persons including a small child, remain missing.
Tropical storm Arthur – the first storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, formed on Saturday afternoon May 31, 2008 – and immediately made landfall in Belize dumping approximately 15 inches of rainfall over the country, cutting off the southern districts of Stann Creek and Toledo completely; Toledo District remains inaccessible by road. Collectively Arthur and tropical storm Alma, which developed in the Eastern Pacific on May 27, produced more than four days of rains. Three major bridges were completely destroyed on the Southern highway and the Coastal Road (Kendal, Mullins River & Soldier Creek) and a number of culverts on the Hummingbird highway were washed away, resulting in significant gaps and eroded areas on the highway. Kendall Bridge located on the Southern Highway – the only road that runs further south and connects the entire Toledo District to the rest of Belize – is of primary significance since it was completely washed away.
Villages significantly affected are in the south west Belize district –Gales Point Manatee; and Stann Creek District – Mullins River, Hope Creek, Sarawee, Sittee River, Hopkins, and the Valley Communities. This area accounts for approximately 20 houses destroyed and 200-300 houses damaged constituting a displaced population of 4000 persons. Shelter, household items, water and sanitation leading to health concerns as well as psychosocial attention are cited as the most urgent needs of the affected population. Long term food needs will be determined by more in-depth sectoral assessments.
Villages affected in the north so far include Santa Clara and San Roman where flooding has receded and Buena Vista, Caledonia and San Narciso Villages. Further rising river levels in the north has resulted in evacuations of the communities of San Estevan and Douglas and more flooding is expected in San Victor and Concepcion villages. Estimates indicate that approximately 8,000 persons countrywide will be directly impacted – children (3800), women (2000) as a result of houses destroyed, damaged or submerged and villages completely inundated.
The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) has conducted an initial Damage Assessment and Needs Analysis but the results are still pending. Expected areas of economic impact as identified by NEMO are the agricultural industry – especially rice, citrus, aquaculture, and bananas; the budding oil industry - due to the destruction of key bridges on the Southern Highway; the Fishing and Tourism industries.
NEMO has provided relief supplies, particularly food to all the affected areas using the maritime assets from the Belize Defence Force, the Belize Coast Guard and the British Forces Helicopter to access those communities that are inaccessible by road. Mobile Medical teams have been deployed to the affected areas in order to provide assistance to the victims and to give advice on health related issues. NEMO has identified the initial needs such as food and water (including Baby food); medical supplies; and clothing especially for children. With longer term needs including housing construction materials and household items.
The United Nations Crisis Coordination Centre (UNCCC) – with staff from PAHO, UNDP, UNFPA, and UNICEF – has been operating since Monday, June 2 2008 and has been working closely with local authorities including to provide logistical and technical support in damage assessments. Discussions with PM Barrow are ongoing to identify specific areas for further UN humanitarian support. The UN is particularly concerned about the water and sanitation situation – contaminated water, water and vector borne diseases.
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UNICEF Representative/UN Designated Official (Belize):