Junglepixiebelize - Recollections of a Gringa Pioneer
Nancy R Koerner - Copyright@2023 - All Rights Reserved
"Hurricane Greta - In the Path"
The afternoon had turned nasty as dark unnatural clouds lay heavy on the southern horizon, and a capricious wind began to blow. I felt an odd tickle, as though little tendrils of cool air now co-mingled with the warm, and I had a sudden flicker of foreboding. A hinged wooden shutter tore loose from the hook-and-eye that usually secured it in place, and banged on the window frame. I looked into the sky and saw a few thin plumes of clouds, drifting up and curling like mare’s tails. Maybe a storm was coming. I turned on the little battery-operated transistor radio. The announcer spoke rapidly.
"...and, as you just heard in our latest update, Hurricane Greta is due to make landfall in Belize at approximately six o'clock this
I practically flew out the front door, and called to my husband, as our three-year-old son looked up from his toys in surprise.
“A hurricane is coming! I yelled. “Come quick. It's on the radio!"
"…also we urge you once again to stock up on nonperishable foods, candles, and first aid supplies…"
He came running down the path and arrived breathless at the door. "Did you say what I think you said?"
"Quick! Yes, a hurricane! Listen!" I turned it up.
"...any loose objects in your yard can become projectiles in the high winds,” the weatherman cautioned, “and if your house has
a tin roof, be sure to throw ropes over the top and stake them into the ground. Remember to leave a window open opposite
the blast of the wind. This will prevent implosion. Make sure all your family members have a piece of plastic or raincoat for
cover. Keep plenty of dry clothes on hand, wrapped in plastic, and be sure to prepare some food in advance. The hurricane is
packing winds of up to one hundred and twenty miles per hour, and is not expected to lose much strength when it makes
landfall near the town of Dangriga. Play it safe and don't take chances. This Hurricane Greta advisory comes to you on Radio
Belize, courtesy of the Caribbean Weather Service."
My husband’s face contorted with worry. "I wonder how long they've been warning people already. What if this has been on its way for a while, and we’ve only just found out?” His suspicion would prove correct. The rest of the world had known, for over eight hours, that landfall was imminent.
We did everything possible to prepare. Our little boy was aware that a big wind was coming but, at this point, he was more excited than afraid. He watched his dad close the wooden shutters over the glass windows and nail them in place; inside, the house had gone dark. As advised, he had thrown ropes over the tin roofing, and pounded stakes into the ground. The three of us drove the goats and chickens into their respective sides of the thatched coop duplex. We’d been told that a well-built thatch was able to withstand high winds because it allowed air to pass through the open eaves, and often, stood a better chance than conventional roofing. It was anybody's guess. Daniel said the hut was twenty years old. It would either stand or fall.
Just shortly after five-thirty, as we secured ourselves inside, the rains began in earnest – the first hard gusts coming from the southeast. Ours was just a simple frame house, with a tin roof, and cheap celotex walls that divided the living area and kitchen, from the bedroom, and store room. As darkness fell, a gale force hit the house so hard, the rain pushed through the tongue-and-groove siding, and trickled down into puddles on the floor.
The hurricane winds then rotated, coming from the south, and then southwest. The walls shook and creaked in the raging wind, and we feared that the house might come apart. Convinced we might need a secondary fortress, my husband dragged the heavy bed frame from the bedroom into the center of the living room. In the flickering light of the kerosene lamp, we pushed our plastic-wrapped parcels of clothes and food under the bed.
Our son screamed, cried with fear, and clung to me, as the roaring wind rose to a terrifying level. The three of us wrapped ourselves in blankets, crawled under the bed, and huddled together. Speaking had become impossible. The wind-driven rain now blew horizontally, a fine spray spritzing through the walls. Suddenly, a spit of water hit the kerosene lamp. It shattered the glass, snuffed the flame, and plunged our little house into darkness.
Branches and debris began to tear loose from the surrounding jungle, and crash against the sides of the house. The eye must have been edging us, as the monster storm continued its circular motion, driving from the west, and then the northwest, rattling the sheets of tin. We could hear them working their way loose from the nails that secured them to the rafters. My husband put a firm arm around both of us, and didn't say a word. Now it would be a waiting game.
Outside the blast was in full fury, and the entire house rocked. Just when I thought the wind couldn't blow any harder, or shriek any louder, another malevolent blast would surpass the last one. Deprived of even our sense of sight, it was an audible nightmare beyond imagination. Beyond hell. Intolerable. Now, huge limbs smashed against the house. We could hear the tin roof creaking, the wood rending, and it was one of the times in my life that I expected death at any moment. The walls would collapse, or be torn away by the maelstrom, and the hurricane would swallow us whole.
There would be no emergency services. No medical. No rescue. There would be no one to even come look for us in the wreckage.
The force of the hurricane had begun to weaken around midnight, and then diminished through the wee hours. At first light, I tried to comprehend, but my brain could make no sense of what my eyes could not grasp. What should have been a familiar view was, instead, a chaotic kaleidoscope of incomprehensible input.
A dark ashen-gray first light had soon evolved into the most bizarre color display of atmospheric phenomenon since the dawn of creation, particles of dust, and dirt, and leaf, and every kind of organic matter – in colors that had never before been associated with the word “sky.” There was no blue, no gray, no white clouds. There was only a strange pulsating vibrancy of gold, orange, yellow, green, red, and brown. And beneath -- the earth, the jungle, the land -- had been broken and torn beyond all comprehension. And then I saw it…
"The river," I whispered, in awe. "My God. Look at the river."
Until this morning, the Macal River had never be seen from the house – could not be seen – not even in the heaviest of rainy season floods. The river was always out of sight, cut far too deeply into the bottom of the 200’ near-vertical valley. Yet, now, beyond simply rising and spilling its distant banks, the floodwaters had utterly filled the massive gorge. A mile wide to the south, where the fertile plain had been, it had swallowed all of Macaw Bank. Only an unearthly mass of water dominated the landscape from south, to west, to north. No longer a mere river, the Macal appeared to be nothing less than a silvery-brown inland sea of unimaginable proportion.