We woke up this morning to a glorious Caribbean sunrise with swatches of blue sky amid the gauzy clouds and golden amber glow. A flat sea, still wind and barely visible reef greeted me and my cup of coffee. And mosquitoes, the most murderous panicky mosquitoes I have ever encountered here.
Tonight, I suspect, will reveal to us one of those many variations of hell that the imaginations of god-fearing mortals have conjured through the ages.
This hell has a name and it is Earl.
Earl is a giant, slothful swath of weather, 90 miles wide on either side of its core, that is slowly — painfully slowly –making its way toward Belize. They say it is traveling at 14 mph and that is not a good thing because it is building strength and shape behind that wall and could well be a hurricane by the time it reaches us.
We’ve been preparing for this for what feels like weeks.
On Tuesday, the atmosphere was quietly intense in San Pedro as people went about the business of survival — buying food, water, plywood, batteries, waterproof storage containers. No panic. No stress. This morning, the lines were long to leave the island by water taxi.
Everywhere, people are exhorting others to “Stay safe.” “Hunker down.” “Be careful.”
We’ve done all we can do. We have new flashlights and batteries, lighters, Sterno cans, candles, extra water. Everything loose has been gathered up and put away or tied down. Kendrick and Gilroy spent two days trimming back all the palm trees on the property and removing all the coconuts. Those things apparently fly around like cannon balls in a really strong wind.
Even though our residence is only 40 feet from the edge of the sea, few of our neighbors here have resorted to boarding up with plywood. Some ground-floor units are boarded up, to protect them from the inevitable water surge. Already you can see that water will play a major role in this weather drama.
Some of the more experienced pier owners on the island have been removing planks so that the surge has some place to go, other than launching boards up into the air.
The barrier reef surf that was barely visible this morning is now roiling white foam, framed by tall North Shore-class waves. The first of the waves have reached shore — crippled by the reef, modest things that barely break over the retaining wall — but we are expecting seas five to six feet above normal, which means eventually the reef will do little to slow them down. Some spectacular crashes into the retaining wall are expected soon.
The accompanying rain, too, will be extraordinary — as much as 18 inches in some parts of Belize. That means flooding in the flat and low north and flash flooding in the more-mountainous south. And no part of this country is likely to escape unscathed. Earl’s reach is 90 miles on either side of its core — which seems to be bearing down for a direct hit on Belize City.
The last of the water taxis and the last of the airplanes have left Ambergris Caye for the day, until the ersatz hurricane passes. I’m told the municipal water supply is shutting down at 2 p.m. for the duration of the storm. Shops, banks and government agencies are locked up tight for the most part, except for emergency staffing.
Friends heading to Rio for the Olympics left the island earlier today and will ride out Earl in Belize City before flying to Brazil. Their first flight, from San Pedro, was delayed by one of several short but intense drenchings we’ve had since the shimmering, placid, sunrise.
At this point there is little to do but wait, like generals awaiting the long dark line of the advancing enemy to appear on the horizon.
I scan the Internet for the latest wire reports from the acronym-laden world of weather and disaster response — NOAA, NEMO, NWS, etc. — as Rose prepares food, including some extraordinary oatmeal cookies. We both keep an eye on the TV reports which are growing annoyingly repetitive.
The Kindles are charged up and loaded. The flashlights ready for the inevitable power failure. There is extra ice in the cooler.
It is hunker-down time. And time for reflection.
It had been a nice gentle ride for two and a half years.
This day was inevitable, as much a part of Paradise as everything else.
Be safe. Hunker down.