25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
There is a song written by a Belizean Calypso composer and musician and it goes pretty much like this in lyrics: “From Puerto Rico it went past Jamaica. Then they said it was heading for Cuba, but like a boomerang, it turned on its course to Belize my land.”
This song if you analyze it with a map of the Caribbean, you will be able to appreciate that indeed hurricanes are unpredictable. The song refers to Hurricane Hattie, which struck Belize in the year 1961 with the eye entering between Belize City and Stann Creek. It killed over 500 people in Belize City alone, 14 in Caye Caulker and it also devastated the entire beachfront of San Pedro village. That hurricane seemed to have passed way above Belize in the eastern Caribbean and was close to Cuba when it made a 180 degree turn to locate little Belize in the heart of the Caribbean basin.
In the days of Hurricane Hattie, we did not have television and had no idea of the track of the monster. We only heard over the radio that it was above us, more or less like Hurricane Ivan last week. But what could have caused it to make such a turn? Whatever it was, it proves that you can never trust a hurricane or better say, you can never say I am completely save until you have seen it gone away and dying.
In the year 1931, hurricanes were not named but referred to by the year and month. That year Belize was getting ready to celebrate the 10th day of September, The Battle of Saint George’s Caye. There was a beautiful sky, and all the people, adults and school children, were on the streets of Belize City getting ready for the big parade. Suddenly, the lovely blue sky turned gray and threatening, and a storm brew up. In a short while, the hurricane of 1931 was ravaging Belize City and again in San Pedro most thatch houses were flattened.
This one was unpredictable because there was no effective communication with weather stations to forewarn us of the approaching hurricane. And how come the sky can be so clear and lovely and suddenly a storm is upon you? Hurricanes are indeed unpredictable.
Four years ago when Hurricane Mitch was threatening a direct blow to Northern Belize and San Pedro, we carried a massive evacuation, and suddenly the storm drifted lower south and entered Honduras and Guatemala, sparing Belize at the last minute. One year later, for Hurricane Keith, we were placed on “hurricane watch”, meaning that there was a hurricane in the area and that it was heading for the coast of Yucatan, north of us and was to enter the gulf of Mexico. Suddenly Keith froze on latitude 19 just north of us and then started drifting back to latitude 18. It became stationery in front of San Pedro. Suddenly it changed from Category One to Category Four and started ravaging La Isla Bonita for the next 30 hours or so. Most of us had only taken a pair of clothing to spend one night at a friend’s house or shelter because it was a small storm and it was passing north of us. But hurricanes are unpredictable. As you can see this one, Keith, suddenly became a Category four and even drifted back to locate us and give us an unwelcome visit.
You see, hurricanes are indeed unpredictable! Therefore one should never take any chances. Do not say, “I am going on a fishing trip,” if the storm is in the vicinity. Do not say, “I am going on a vacation trip,” if this storm is anywhere in the Caribbean or near it.
Never say, “I am not going to insure my house this year,” because this is the year you might get the scare of your life. Never say, “I do not need a stock of supplies, like batteries, flashlight, nails and screws, and food rations,” because this is the year you might need it the most. Never say, “Ya paso,” meaning that it is over because a hurricane ain’t over till it’s over. Don’t sell or use the plywood that you had designated to cover your glass windows, because the price of it might go up when a hurricane brews up right at our very door. Just like 25 years ago, today hurricanes are still unpredictable.