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#248732 - 09/07/07 12:38 PM Evan X Hyde on Hattie
Sir Isaac Newton Offline
Posted: 06/09/2007 - 03:21 PM
Author: Evan X Hyde

“From Puerto Rico, it went past Jamaica.
Then they said it was heading for Cuba.
But, like a boomerang,
It turned on its course for Belize, my land.”
- Cleveland Berry in “Hattie”

I entered Belize (City) a week after Hurricane Hattie, which struck Belize on October 31, 1961. I was 14 years old. My family had taken shelter in Central Farm.

My dad left Belize City about 7:30 the night of October 30, along with my mom and my eight brothers and sisters, in a Plymouth station wagon - 301. My mom had baked at least one sack of Creole bread, but maybe it was more. With human passengers, luggage and food, the wagon 301 was jammed to the gill, so to speak.

It was a good thing we abandoned our home. We lived on the top floor of a three-storey wooden building at no. 3 West Canal Street.

They say that Hattie began visiting Belize around midnight the night. So my family left the old capital just four and a half hours before. In those days, we cut it a lot closer than we do now. (The differences between 1961 and 2007 are many, and I don’t want to go into those differences right now.) Taking shelter from hurricanes and hurricane threats costs Belizean families a lot of money, and the country of Belize an enormous amount of work production. You always try to wait and see if you can get away without taking up your roots and leaving town.

For some reason the night when my dad drove out, I was left to travel with my late Uncle James, who was a surveyor in the Survey Department. He was driving a Willys vehicle, the ones with the long back. I presume it was government owned. Why I was left to travel with him, I really can’t say. We were not close.

When we left no. 3 West Canal (my Uncle James, his parents/my grandparents, two of my aunts, and two of my grandfather’s nieces lived on the second floor), Mr. James did not take the Western road immediately. He drove to the Yarborough area, somewhere near Wesley College, and left me to sit on the front seat and wait for him. I believe he visited a lady friend. We did not leave the city until around twenty minutes to nine, if I remember correctly.

Around Mile 12 on the Western road (it was a long ways from being a highway in those days), we ran into 301, parked on that ominous night by the roadside with all its passengers and luggage. They’d had a flat. 301 had a spare, but no jack. Or maybe it was a jack, and no spare. Can you believe? Whatever, it was decided that everyone should pile into the back of the Willys, along with luggage and Creole bread. There must have been more than 10 passengers in 301, because there were 17 of us in all who traveled through that night to Central Farm in the Willys. That’s the number I remember – 17.

I can’t say what time we reached Central Farm, but for sure we younger ones were tired and went to sleep. Hurricane Hattie arrived in Central Farm early the morning, with ferocious gusts of wind which the adults estimated to run about 65 miles per hour. By that time, unbeknownst to us, the Belize City we knew was no more. Hattie was Cat Five, “fully loaded” with the storm surge package.

I asked just this Sunday, when it was that the first news reached Central Farm of the devastation on the coast. Was it later the same day, the following day, the day after? All I know for sure is that the first thing we heard was that “Parish Hall gaan.” Then we heard that “Palace Theater gaan.”

Finally, we heard, “Barclays Bank gaan.” At that point, my mom said, “No, if Barclays gaan, everyting gaan.” She had seen how the Barclays Bank building had been constructed at the corner of Albert and Church Streets. She did not believe it was possible for a hurricane to flatten it. She was right.

I was dying to get to Belize City. At 14, I thought I was a man. You know how it is around that age. As I said earlier, I finally entered the city a week after the catastrophe. I was along with my late grandfather, Jim Hyde. For the life of me, I can’t remember how we got there, and from where. I can’t even remember if we were in a vehicle. Can’t remember anything, except that maybe 18 inches of the vilest, most stinking mass of goo and mud still covered everywhere. I remember turning the corner of Cemetery Road left into West Canal – home street. The Puga’s grocery shop at the corner of Cemetery Road and West Canal was still clearing out rotten beans and other stuff. The city was stink, Jack.

Where my home had stood, there was just a pile of rubble about five feet high. A lady named Miss Ella, in the Burns yard behind us, had stayed in her home, and drowned. The Hyde family also owned the house at no. 1 West Canal, which had been rented out to Polo and Petty (deceased) Acosta and their family. That house had survived Hattie (as it had survived the 1931 hurricane). My grandfather and I took up residence in what was left of the downstairs.

At some point, my parents and my siblings moved to Camp Oakley outside of Burrell Boom. They were living out there in some kind of a tent for at least a month. I used to ride on bicycle from the city to visit them.

Inside the city, it was all about lining up for rice, beans, flour, blankets and so on. The old Bliss Institute was one of the places where rations were shared and parceled out.

Two noteworthy things about a city after a hurricane are the lost roofs and zinc sheetings, and all the poles and wires strewn over the mud which was previously city streets.

The night is intrinsically more romantic than the day. I heard someone mention a couple weeks ago exactly how long it was before electricity was restored in Belize City after Hattie. It seemed to me, personally, like maybe three months, but some people have the figures. Still, I’m thinking, even if the old BEB (Belize Electricity Board) began producing current, didn’t mean it was inside homes, because so many of those were gone or still being repaired. It must have been a case of some lampposts being “energized,” to use the modern jargon.

So, after Hattie there would have been a lot of trysts. The nights were long and dark, and if you think about it, there wasn’t much else to do after sunset. At 14, however, it was all fantasy in my case, can you dig it.

There is no way to prepare someone who has not seen the destruction of a Cat Five for the experience when he/she comes out after the cyclone or enters the city for the first time afterwards. It’s a case of everything having changed in such a way as to traumatize. Wow. Wow
Check out my site: www.ambergriscayerealestate.net

#248734 - 09/07/07 12:47 PM Re: Evan X Hyde on Hattie [Re: Sir Isaac Newton]
Marty Online   happy
wow is right. great post sin...
i love this book, it has an excellent account of hattie


From Library Journal
After sloshing around in the Great Mercury Spill at Oak Ridge, former U.S. diplomat and current mystery writer Conroy (Mr. Smithson's Bones, St. Martin's, 1993) sought a better career and was appointed vice consul to the tiny, moribund British Central American colony now called Belize. He needed to be a magician to wend his way through the intrigue of dealing with Americans of questionable character and to adjust to a society in which the city manager ran a bordello and the police commissioner drove a stolen American car. Voodoo was also a hazard when Conroy arrived, but not as dangerous as Hurricane Hattie, which he experienced when it devastated the country in 1961. After two years he was reassigned. Conroy's memoir captures the essence of the hilarious and preposterous situations that cross-cultural relationships can bring. Recommended for all collections.

From Kirkus Reviews
Conroy has redirected his gift for goofy storytelling (The India Expedition, 1992; Old Ways in the New World, 1994) from the fictional accounts of foreign-affairs officer Henry Scruggs to a memoir of his years in what was then British Honduras. Searching for a workplace less toxic than the hydrogen-bomb facility where he was employed, Conroy responded to a newspaper want ad at the suggestion of his wife, and found himself in the US Foreign Service. After an initial posting in Washington, where he undertook ``unimportant, but urgent and high-priority'' tasks, Conroy was appointed vice consul to British Honduras. Upon his arrival to what his obnoxious, and ultimately untrustworthy, boss calls ``in back of beyond,'' Conroy and his young family were temporarily housed in the residence of the local USAID official, who had just committed suicide. The consul introduced Conroy to members of the local diplomatic circle with witty and appallingly rude characterizations, but the new vice consul soon learned there was little cause for discomfort, as no offense was taken. In Honduras his tasks were never urgent or high-priority, but they were extremely important: instructing shippers to mark boxes of needed tires with dog food labels to get them past sticky-fingered customs agents; covering up his accidental opening of mail sent to another nation's consulate; and killing poisonous snakes. When the devastating hurricane Hattie hit the city in 1961, Conroy survived and restored the consulate to some semblance of working order without any help from his superior, who had fled. After a few run-ins with a comical ex-patriate, who eagerly informed on drug runners in the hopes of receiving reward money, Conroy was reassigned to Vienna, where we are to assume things got much more serious. While Conroy admittedly takes a little license with the facts (which he attributes to poor memory), this is an enjoyable account from the eyes of a colonial-era bureaucrat.

#248737 - 09/07/07 12:51 PM Re: Evan X Hyde on Hattie [Re: Marty]
Sir Isaac Newton Offline
Thank you! I'm ordering it. Have you read Jaguar?, whadya think?

Too bad I missed the "good ole' days".
Check out my site: www.ambergriscayerealestate.net

#248740 - 09/07/07 12:55 PM Re: Evan X Hyde on Hattie [Re: Sir Isaac Newton]
Marty Online   happy
have not read jaguar, looks great, just ordered it....
yeah we missed em, but through reading, we can learn a lot and educate ourselves, huh?

#248742 - 09/07/07 12:56 PM Re: Evan X Hyde on Hattie [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy
the conroy book is HILARIOUS as well as very educating on Belize 1961. or of course i mean British Honduras. "Belize" back then meant Belize City

#248752 - 09/07/07 01:17 PM Re: Evan X Hyde on Hattie [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy
reading this now

Journalist Talty (Mulatto America) entertainingly chronicles the life of legendary privateer Capt. Henry Morgan and his crucial role in challenging Spain's hegemony in the New World in this informative popular history. Seeking his fortune, Welshman Morgan arrived in the Caribbean just as British King Charles II decided to challenge Spain by using pirates "as a stick with which to beat [them]." Morgan accepted a privateer's commission from the British—in effect, a license to steal—and set out in 1661 to make his fortune. Smart and charismatic, Morgan quickly rose to the rank of captain and became "fabulously rich." His attack on the Spanish stronghold at Portobelo "showed the world that the empire was vulnerable," and his raid on the city of Panama—the "greatest raid in the history of buccaneering"—forced "the Spanish to renounce their exclusive rights to the New World." Charles II knighted Morgan and appointed him deputy governor of Jamaica, a position that tasked him—"the greatest of the buccaneers"—with exterminating piracy. Morgan died of the effects of alcohol abuse in 1688 at 53. Talty strips away the legend to recreate a pivotal era in this accessible portrait of the pirates of the Caribbean.


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