Forty seven years ago on October 31, 1961, British Honduras, now Belize, was struck by a powerful and monstrous hurricane that changed the face of the entire country. It ravaged havoc everywhere destroying the citrus and banana plantations of the south, the sugarcane fields of the north and the cattle all about. In San Pedro it wiped out the coconut industry and destroyed a blossoming fishing industry largely dependent on fish traps and lobster pats. I can close my eyes and re-live it when I was only eleven years old.
ITS PATH: Hurricane Hattie was formed off the coast of Panama in the Caribbean and traveled in the middle of the Caribbean Sea in a northerly direction. It was supposed to hit Puerto Rico and Jamaica as well as Cuba, but like a boomerang it turned west and headed straight to Belize. Hattie made landfall as a category five storm with winds up to 160 miles per hour and gusts of 200 mph between Belize City and Stann Creek right over Mullins River. After devouring Belize it exited the mainland into the Pacific as a weak depression but reorganized and was renamed Tropical Storm Simone. It re-entered land in Mexico and back into the Gulf of Mexico near Campeche where it was named Inga which died a natural death.
PREPARATIONS The approach of Hurricane Hattie was first heard over the airwaves of the BHBC (British Honduras Broadcasting Corporation) early in the morning of Oct 31 on a small battery operated radio. The word spread around San Pedro like fire and immediately the villagers started with some preparations. That morning there was the sound of hammering all over. One piece of wood was nailed across each wooden window and to prevent the house from leaning, a support post was secured diagonally from the top of the wall to the ground (big joke). The villagers crisscrossed ropes all over the thatch roofs thinking that this would secure them. (another big joke) By midday the waves were rolling up to the fences of the houses along the beach and this already looked scary. However children were innocently running up and down the beach racing with the waves. Some were trying not to get wet while others were having a blast getting wet.
After a quick lunch we helped carry a few items over to our designated shelter. We took four cardboard boxes filled with clothes, the radio, gasoline iron, hammocks, and two mirrors on wood frames. Mother baked five pounds of bread and packed a dozen corned fish in a plastic bag. By three in the afternoon all the boats had been taken to the lagoon or river for safe harbor and all dories had been taken to the end of the yard of the beach lots. (another big joke) At about this time word went out that two fishing boats had not returned to the island from Glover’s Reef and Half Moon Caye; this brought tears on many women family members and worried gloomy faces on all the villagers. The waves were rolling all the way up to the middle street (now Barrier Reef Drive) dumping sticks, grass and all types of debris which caused the men to now have grave faces. The sky was completely covered with black nimbus clouds and a constant drizzle added to the gloom of the day.
At 5 p.m. with the winds now roaring at 30 miles per hour, all the villagers moved from their beach homes to their designated shelters on the back street (now Pescador Drive) and a few went to strong wooden houses on Middle Street like Blake House and the Priest’s house. The streets soon became empty and the doors were locked for what was to be the longest night in their lives. San Pedro was reluctantly and nervously ready to face a monster that they had not yet experienced in their lives. It was a night into the unknown.
Continued next week...
- by Angel Nuñez, Columnist