Was checking out the new Google News Archive search
the other day, and came across this: What Spiders Know
Posted Monday, Sep. 21, 1931
The big silk spiders of Bermuda have been weaving their skeins on low bushes and shrubs this summer instead of up in the trees and telephone poles. Any sapient Bermudian knows what that means: a hurricane season.
As early as two weeks ago the national observatory at Havana announced that there was a big blow brewing in the Caribbean. No one at Belize paid any attention to the warning. Instead, one afternoon last week the citizenry turned out to watch a parade of school children marching in a pageant to celebrate the 133rd year of Honduran independence from Spain. While the children, black and white, with happy faces and stiff white clothes, filed up the sunny street, a whirling havoc of wind was winding up over the southeastern horizon at a deliberate gait of 35 m. p. h. Then the wind increased in velocity, contorted, smashed into Belize at 2:30 p. m. with the vindictive shriek and speed of a racing plane.
Black constables shouting cockney rushed among the people, trying to get them indoors. The first impact struck the Jesuit mission on the shorefront, lifted it, sifted it through its invisible hands like a pack of cards. There perished ten priests. They had come a long way to die: from St. Louis, from Buffalo, Cleveland. Cincinnati, Superior and Racine (Wis.), Reading (Pa.), from Ireland, from Spain.
Manager Beattie, local agent of the far-flung Royal Bank of Canada, was out riding. The blast lifted his horse from under him. Manager Beattie crawled on the ground, clung to groaning trees. A liquor warehouse burst. Bottles of whiskey rolled into the door of the nearby U. S. consulate. Consul G. Russel Taggart was stunned by a falling piece of roofing metal.
Belize was founded by British pirates. The name Belize was unaccountably derived by Spaniards from the name of the Scottish Settler Wallis. Legend relates that the city was built in a swamp on a foundation of gin pots and mahogany chips. If this is so, it would have been better if the city's fathers had thrown in a few more pots and chips, for Belize is only a few inches above sealevel. Out of this circumstance came the second and far more horrible tragedy.
There was a lull in the storm. The superintendent of police went about warning the city that another, more vicious blow was expected momentarily. It came sooner than he expected. With it came a tidal wave. It poured over the city its mammoth salty blanket. It knocked the police officer's car spinning, drowned him. It seated a 200-ton vessel on the customs house roof. It demolished nearly every house in town.
As usual in Central American catastrophes, Pan American Airways got the news out to the world first. The dead were originally reported at 150, then at 400, later at 700. When the known toll reached 1,000 (Belize had 13,000 inhabitants), the authorities stopped counting, looked for corpses no longer. It would have been impossible to bury them before they started spreading disease. Bodies already found were dumped into convict-dug trenches. The rest were thrown on pyres made of badly demolished buildings, including the Jesuit college where many unidentified victims must have been killed.
Up from Nicaragua roared two U. S. Marine planes carrying medical relief. They had a hard time landing in the rubble. Out of Colon sped the U. S. cruiser Rochester. The gunboat Sacramento set out at once from Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, and the minesweeper Swan steamed up from Trujillo, Honduras, with food, water, bandages. Out of Kingston, Jamaica, raced H. M. S. Danae to help her own people.
At Belize, Governor Sir John Burdon surveyed his demolished town, pondered abandoning it, building a new city farther back from the bay on a piney ridge. As soon as the Belize river could be cleared of bodies and debris, native inhabitants in small boats started upcountry. Through a fetid atmosphere of stranded, rotting fish, whole families made the journey to escape threatened pestilence and famine in the ruined city. Better, they thought, take a chance in the jungle.
Most of the recent big blows from the Caribbean have been in September. It is not unusual for an equinoctial storm to beat the calendar by a week or so (autumnal equinox: Sept. 22). Florida's last two bad ones (1926, 1928) came in September, also Porto Rico's (1928), Santo Domingo's (1930). Cuba's last serious hurricane struck in October 1926.
Less than seven hours after the Belize blow, a second hurricane bore up from the southeast on San Juan, P. R. Governor Theodore Roosevelt Jr. had just left for the U. S. The wind lasted 45 min., killed two, knocked out communications for a day, slightly damaged the grapefruit crop, burst in the windows and thoroughly soaked "La Fortaleza," Governor Roosevelt's mansion.
For a while Cuba thought she might be struck. But the hurricane bumped off the mountains of Haiti, spun up and out, vanished and spent itself over the tumbling Caribbean.
A third hurricane, off the western coast of Mexico, threatened, did not materialize.