We have gained considerable experience now in the Western Caribbean, dealing with hurricanes. The role that the Belize Development Trust and it's associated volunteers, drawn primarily from the participants of the Belize Culture Listserve ( between 120 -200 people ) has evolved into two main categories.
The first role, has been tracking of the hurricane and warnings. We usually get many volunteers within the hurricane area, who give us "on the spot" reports of what is actually happening. We do not forecast hurricane tracks, but do tell what it actually does and describe from people within affected areas, of what they are experiencing, to get an idea of the severity of hurricane conditions. Through volunteers we can also judge very accurately, strength and diameter of the damage from the winds in all hurricane quadrants. Through the use of the reporting live technique, using the internet and personal telephone calls to the stricken area, very good pictures of needs and problems are easily outlined for the larger relief agencies. Usually, our hurricane reporting and tracking, are superior to the National Hurricane Center of the USA. We also cover events in real time and in considerably more depth than the USA. The USA Hurricane Center in Miami being more concerned only with the USA territory and the issuing of bulletins for local smaller government agencies, that must change the working hours of many millions of people with forward agency departmental planning.
The second evolving part, through a number of hurricanes in the Western Caribbean has now come to RELIEF efforts. We have successfully raised, or assisted organizing some emergency funding donations by volunteers!. We see our contributions as being mostly immediate and emergency. In that, we mean; we want our contributions and assistance of volunteers, to go to the needs of people effected within the first 24 to 48 hours if possible and then to cater to disaster needs to about three weeks out. After that, it is the role of governments and very large relief operations to organize more sustainable long term assistance.
Certain patterns have evolved. We now know the needs of hurricane victims for our purposes. These are usually, chainsaws, gasoline and oil, ropes, crowbars, muslin mosquito netting, plastic rolls for shelters, or tarps, or small tents, a generator for each effected community and some lights and extensions, plastic containers to collect drinking water and hold food from depredations of insects, food supplies for communal kitchens, a distribution system into disaster area.
Work is best done, while victims are still in SHOCK. They need some teams of victims organized, streets, tracks and roads cleared immediately to facilitate emergency relief. This is the role of the military, but rarely is forthcoming in time. Village elected persons to organize and run community kitchens and cooking and the serving of meals; local team work to open arteries for walking and movement. Shelter, water and food follow very quickly in this order. These things are best done by the quick and pesonal distribution of supplies, like netting, plastic sheeting, tarps, tents, containers and food to the worst victims. By the time our three weeks participation has run it's course, the government organizations and international agencies have come in with more and larger scale contributions. These bring heavy machinery, like bulldozers and such.
How a hurricane strike effects communities. Basically, a hurricane is like a large tornado. The eye of the hurricane, a calm area, is usually circled by the vortex of furious winds. Whatever the eye of the hurricane hits, is damaged. This is because while the EYE of the hurricane might be calm, it is a lot like imagining a motor. Imagine a lawnmower, or a weed eater, or skill saw. The eye of the hurricane is the central motor shaft. Extending outward from the eye wall, is a path of buzz saw destruction, about eight miles on all sides. If the eye wall is 12 miles wide of calm air, then if you add eight miles on any side, you must add a total of 16 miles to the 12 mile wide eye of the hurricane. This gives you a path of destruction of 12 miles for the eye added to the 16 total miles of destruction from the eye wall outward, going eight miles out in all directions. For a total path of destruction covering 28 miles in width. Hurricanes in the Western Caribbean also are noted to have mini-tornado winds moving around the eye wall vortex. These tornados spawned within the eye wall, can reach wind gusts in excess of two or three times the actual constant measured speed of eye wall winds. Where ever they hit is totally decimated. Steel girders, reinforced concrete sills and buildings are blown hither and thither, while a hundred feet away, flimsy shanties remain unharmed.
Hurricanes that come in over the sea usually push a tidal surge in front of the track of the Hurricane Eye. This tidal surge recedes as it goes out from the main track of the hurricane eye. Depending on the strength of the hurricane, the ground speed of the eye in travelling, the tidal surge in front of the hurricane track can vary in height. We have measured everything from seven feet to thirty feet in height of tidal surges. On top of this for offshore low lying islands and atolls, hurricane waves of another thirty feet can crest and break with tremendous force measured in tonnes per square yard. In jungles on the mainland, hurricane tracks have been observed to cut the jungle trees off just above ground level, as if you were cutting your lawn with a lawn mower. The lines of the track are delineated clearly in hurricanes that have gone ashore across the Yucatan peninsular. The recent hurricane going through the Maya jungle villages of the southern Toledo District of Belize had such a path.
For emergency purposes and disaster relief, one only needs an accurate map of the track and path of the Hurricane Eye. If one knows the diameter of the eye, add sixteen miles, or eight miles each side of the Eye diameter and you can pretty much visualize everything and anybody being effected the worst by the hurricane. This is your targeted emergency relief area.
In Honduras and Nicaragua, they also suffer from mountainous terrain and often hurricane torrential rainfalls, saturate the ground and soak the deep volcano mud. Due to deforestation and population explosion; floods in these countries of Central America kill more people from drowning and mud slides than from wind damage. All the rivers flood. Without tree roots and forest to hold the water like a sponge, the water simply wipes away whole towns and villages along waterways. The floods are FLASH floods!
Our role at the Belize Development Trust and those volunteers drawn mostly from the Belize Culture Listserve is to track the hurricane and report of severity experienced in real time. To warn others in the path. To provide emergency relief, particularly in the first 48 hours and later for another 3 weeks. After that, we are finished! Our function in the latter case is SPEED of response! And to expedite government and other organizations to do their part on a much larger sustained scale. We try to provide accurate data, but fast data that is not necessarily accurate, but is also needed so larger organizations can make their own plans for relief better, even if slower in arrival. Or help with their more organized investigations and statistical reporting.