The hurricane named Iris is now a memory, but for thousands of Belizeans in the southern third of the country, those memories will be causing pain for a long time to come. To briefly recap, Iris made landfall around seven-thirty Monday night with the eye passing just north of Monkey River. Maximum sustained winds reached one hundred and forty-five miles per hour with higher localized gusts. These winds and accompanying storm surges laid waste to the coastal villages of Punta Negra, Monkey River, Placencia, Seine Bight and Independence, while at least a dozen inland villages, including San Pedro Columbia, San Miguel, Big Falls and San Antonio were battered to the point where in some cases not a thatch roofed home was left standing. Tonight it is estimated that upwards of eight thousand Belizeans are homeless, many of whom remain isolated without food, clothing or electricity. Others were not even that fortunate, as it is possible that as many as twenty people, including a number of tourists, may have perished when the dive boat "Wave Dancer" turned over while riding out the storm in the port of Big Creek. While the hurricane raged, the nation of Belize was glued to the radio, listening to the drama as it unfolded. Tonight we complement the excellent work of our radio colleagues by bringing you the pictures of the destruction and the tales of survivors. News 5 has two crews covering the story. Janelle Chanona and Rick Romero drove to Placencia early this morning and were joined by Jacqueline Woods and Brent Toombs who arrived by air. Janelle and Rick have just returned to the city, where Janelle joins me in the studio while Rick is running the tape machine in the control room.
(Janelle narrates twenty minutes of footage showing destruction on the Placencia Peninsula as well as aerials of Monkey River and Independence. Transcribed here are interviews only.)
"What were you feeling when it was going on?"
Winifred Sandoval, Seine Bight Resident
"A little frightened, but I had to be strong because I had two children in the house. I had to be there for them. When the vehicle fly from beside the house, the eleven-year-old started crying, so I had to be strong for him. The gas tank, everything blow away. My daughter, her house just came like a month ago, a Mennonite house, now it's all the way to the back. My sister's house, her whole veranda gone."
"So what happens now?"
"We have to start all over."
Cassie Garbutt, Placencia Resident
"I just felt like if somebody was trying to twist the house. I thought it was just this side that was damaged, but no that young lady wants to put in her diving tanks and I find that this side is damaged too. So if the wind had continued, we probably would have been gone because the house would have fallen."
Harry Arzu, NEMO, Dangriga
"People are stranded for the moment. There seems to be a water shortage, or water that could be...what we're trying to say, it that water here needs to be chlorinated or boiled if it's contaminated. Presently NEMO is doing an assessment damage evaluation. Following this evaluation, there's gonna be a lot of help coming down to this area. As a matter of fact, not only NEMO Stann Creek is helping at this time, but there is a lot of donours presently wanting to help to try to fix and rebuild Placencia and the Seine Bight area."
Glenn Eiley, Chairperson, Placencia Village Council
"When I woke up and saw the damage in Independence, I really thought that was bad. It was when I landed here about 8:00 this morning and really start to look around, I didn't think I would have experienced this kind of look in my community.
Also, I noticed people from other villages coming in and we were concerned after dark that looting and stuff would take place. I think that any villager who has their village at heart should stay home and assist their chairpersons or their communities in whichever way they can, to get things back to normal. This is nothing more but a concern because we can't help ourselves. Why would you be coming in, there's no place to stay, there's no way to buy food. So why come in, what are you looking for?"
storm's path hard to pin down-
When Hurricane Iris first appeared as a tropical depression and later as a tropical storm, it looked like it would wreak its havoc on Jamaica, Cuba, Cayman or Mexico...and even when it clearly headed for Belize, the landfall of choice seemed to be San Pedro or Belize City. So what happened? Deputy Chief Meteorologist Justin Hulse says Hurricane Iris, like many of its predecessors, was difficult to pin down.
Justin Hulse, Deputy Chief Meteorologist
"Like in Hurricane Hattie, there was a huge high pressure area...it was actually winter in the Unites States and when that happened, the hurricane can't move up. So initially, the models were expecting a straight westerly flow. So when it was under Jamaica they were expecting it to go to the west, to Yucatan. But, instead of moving straight west, it had a slight southern component to this westerly motion. And the southern component kept the moving it a little lower, a little lower, until it got to the latitude of Belize and lower until it got to the latitude of Monkey River."
"Iris did a lot of damage, could have been worse, unlike Keith that hovered over for some time. Iris moved in and moved out."
"It's the speed. This was a very fast one, it was like Janet. When Janet struck Corozal in 1957, it had about the same speed, twenty miles per hour. But the speed was very important, because it meant that it stayed only a short while over the country. Now if this was a Keith, and with that amount of wind, it could have done a lot of damage, much more damage."
Unlike Keith, which sat around for three to four days and produced thirty-two inches of rainfall, Hulse says Iris only brought two to four inches in most areas. As such, severe flooding is not expected to be a problem."