Hurricane Hattie struck Belize on October 31, 1961, killing more than 400 people and leaving thousands homeless. Almost half of Belize City was demolished by the storm.
The storm that would become Hattie had formed two weeks earlier in the Atlantic Ocean and then moved slowly west toward Central America. When it reached the coast of Belize, known at the time as British Honduras, it was a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour and gusts reaching 180 mph. It was the strongest storm to hit Belize to date. With accurate weather predictions still in their infancy, an attempted evacuation was only partially successful.
The barrier islands of Turneffe and Caye Caulker were totally submerged by the storm surge. Hattie then brought a 12-foot surge to the mainland, flattening all buildings near the shore. Stann Creek, a small fishing village on the coast near Belize City, was completely destroyed. Following the hurricane, a village was built on the outskirts of Belize City and named Hattieville.
Due to the devastation of Hattie, the government chose to construct the new capital city 50 miles inland on high ground and safe from tidal waves. Because of the severity of the hurricane, the name “Hattie” was retired and will never be used as the name of an Atlantic hurricane again.
Below are some amazing photos of the destruction in Belize City caused by Hurricane Hattie 53 years ago.
LOOKING BACK TO 1961
Hattie victims line up at Department of Housing and Planning: Office of Central Authority, and Department of Information and Communications.
Old Market in Downtown Belize City
The building in the center was the Royal Bank of Canada, today the Belize Bank. At the rear left of the photo you can see the Supreme Court building with its signature architecture.
Part of North Front Street, the large building on the right with the sign was Belize Estate and Produce Limited.
Not sure where this building was or is in Belize City. Someone has suggested it may be the Peace Corp building... but I really can't say. Any clues anyone?
Not sure where this one is.
The panoramic scene at the Old Swing Bridge, a crossing still in action...
This building, says CBA engineers Philip Waight and Paul Satchwell, fell down off its posts and ended up partly in the street. Waight's family home also fell off its posts, he said on The Adele Ramos Show on November 2.
This photo is smack downtown in Belize City. The building to the right is Hofius Hardware - to the left is the present-day First Caribbean International Bank on Albert Street.
These men were discussing disaster relief efforts 3 days after Hattie.
On the Barracks... how our ladies did it back in the day and they looked uncomplaining!
Relief via helicopter airlifted to the Memorial Park in Belize City.
All photos and captions courtesy of Adele Ramos: "The Adele Ramos Show" Belize City
NEW YORK TIMES September 2, 1974, Monday
Hurricane Carmen, described as extremely dangerous, gains force on Sept 1 and threatens Brit colony of Belize with winds of 150 to 175 mph. Tides 15 ft above normal are expected. US Hurricane Center says Carmen compares with hurricane Hattie, which struck Belize in '61, killing 262 persons and causing $60,000 in damages.
Awash With Memories of Belize's Hurricane Hattie Washington Post 1996
Every hurricane season blows back the Chronicler's memories of the night 35 years ago when Hurricane Hattie struck Belize, in what was then British Honduras. Just before Halloween in 1961, a heavy heat descended on the goodbye party for the colonial governor. In the living room of Belize City's only elegant ground-floor flat, with its fake fireplace, the glass pendants on the town's fanciest chandelier hung still as stalactites. In the garden facing the sea, guests in sweat-soaked jackets and dresses sipped gin and tonics as soggy canapes were passed around.
A major hurricane was blowing through the Caribbean, but the governor had word that it would strike to the north. Belize was safe.
Still, the sultry calm was saturated with a sense of foreboding. We worried about our house, built on 10-foot stilts but only a block from the sea in a land that does not rise far above the water's level.
The cable reports from Miami to the U.S. consulate gradually grew more terrifying as the storm twisted and turned south -- toward Belize.
The U.S. consul, after taking his sailboat up river, put his wife and children in the car and headed inland. His predecessor in Belize's Sept. 10, 1931, hurricane had stayed in the consulate and was washed out to sea, lost with 2,000 others. The death toll was so high because the town was then full of people commemorating the 1798 battle of Saint George's Cay, when British Honduran baymen wrested control of the cay from Spain.
But the vice consul -- my husband, Richard -- stayed behind. He secured the consulate on the ground level, moved the visa waiting list upstairs and tied down objects that might turn into missiles.
Only then did he come home to wrap his beloved Chickering piano in a tarpaulin. I bought candles and food, boiled water for drinking and packed necessities for our daughters, Claire, 1, and Camille, 3. We took refuge along with many others at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the only modern concrete office building in town.
Silent adults and occasionally crying children crowded an upper floor. We lighted lanterns, and as the winds grew we huddled behind desks. When corrugated roofing crashed through the windows, men made a barricade of bookcases.
Then came pounding and shouting -- the people from the top floor trying to force their way in. A telephone pole had crashed through the penthouse wall, and they had been washed down the stairway by the waves of rain. Only a few could fit behind our barricade, the rest huddled on the staircase and landing. In our refuge, there was no room to sit, only barely enough to stand.
The next morning the wind finally shifted and the sea washed in, frothing like a mad dog.
The town was all flotsam and jetsam -- a steeple sailing down the waves, a whole roof crazily dipping in and out of the water. A man swam along, pulling a string of whiskey bottles through the water. The police commissioner confiscated the evidence.
Richard half swam, half walked through the shoulder-high water to find the consulate unroofed but standing shakily. Desks, chairs and books were all washed up against one wall. Only the office flag hung straight on its pole.
The day after that, the children riding on our shoulders, we went home to find a miracle. Our house still stood -- though the wineglasses were filled with water and mud, the hammers on Richard's piano fell off as he played, and our water vat was stuffed with mud and debris. Soon our house was full of refugees who had been less fortunate.
There was no electricity, but one of our guests provided a kerosene stove, so I cooked up all the food in the freezer and the refrigerator. It was served in courses, by candlelight, on our best tablecloth, all of us grateful we were alive to eat it.
As the water began to subside, Richard went past the site of the governor's farewell party. Most of the apartment was gone; only one prism still hung on the chandelier.
Two days later, Camille had a raging fever. The girls and I were evacuated to Panama. Richard stayed behind, using our house as the consulate. He existed mostly on canned anchovies, Scotch and hard work.
We came back after a lonely Christmas. There were no telephones, only young boys who carried notes. Everything was in short supply. But the children and I were glad to be there.
Hattie in many ways changed the course of the country. Now British Honduras is the independent nation of Belize, with a new capital -- Belmopan, set safely up country on higher ground -- and with a flourishing tourist industry. But when the winds blow hard in hurricane season, I worry.
This was written by the wife of vice-consul Richard Conroy
Richard Conroy is the guy who wrote OUR MAN IN BELIZE, one of my favorite books on Belize
Richard Timothy Conroy’s Our Man in Belize is a fun, engaging memoir of his stint as US vice-consul to the impoverished British Honduras of the early 1960s, a period marked by the devastating Hurricane Hattie.
by Constable Arthur Skeran No. 415 Central Police Station P. T. 0.
October 31, 1961 was one of the finest days in the month for the little village of Mullins River 27 miles south of Belize. This popular resort village, only a mile in length and 100 yards wide, lay quiet, in the evening just before dusk. Then, suddenly, the cry of "Hurricane is out, Hurricane is out" echoed from the lips of the three hundred inhabitants and the scene changed swiftly.
Night had just been settling in when I had returned from a day's work on my father's ranch about one and a half miles northwest of this village_ The sky was darkened with a reddish glow hanging over the distant hills lying to the northwest.
It was the custom of the young men to play cards and drink at one of the saloons every night. So it was on the night of the hurricane. We, my brother and myself, were in the upstairs room of a saloon in the southern end of the village with about 15 other young men ages 15-25. We were not in the least bit troubled as we had never experienced a hurricane before and did not know what it entailed.
It was about the tenth hour when the effect of the breeze could be felt from the ordinary wind. Then the latest report from a neighboring radio said the hurricane was heading straight for British Honduras.
The wind increased. The zinc of the house began to .give way and it was then that the crowd in the saloon became annoyed because the rain was pouring through the roof and it stung like the bite of an ant.
We then decided to go into the saloon. No sooner had we done so when the verandah 9long with the step came down with a crash, startling us a little. We stayed there for what seemed like days. At intervals we heard neighbouring houses going down with muffled crashes.
By this time the water was rising very fast and was about two feet in the saloon. It was about the fourth hour of the morning and it was beginning to get clear.
As the house was now shaking rapidly, we decided to run for the old station, one of the strongest and largest of the one hundred and fifty houses; it was about 200 yards from the saloon.
One by one we emerged from the saloon, struggling over trees, zinc and pieces of houses. Fortunately, only one boy was cut on the ankle by a zinc. A few minutes later however, it was patched up by some daring females who rendered first aid to him, and later to another boy who was hit in the left eye by a whirling piece of board.
Despite the howling wind, the station stood its ground but when the enormous waves slashed against it with the water about waist high in the building, it could not restrain. Down it went in pieces, leaving about seventy people to battle for their lives. However, God Almighty is a wonderful God, for by this time it was daylight and we were able to see our way.
It was a piteous sight to see all the children crying so mournfully. Some of them forced their way onto trees and the waves slashed at their feet like hungry wolves. At this time it seemed as if we were experiencing the centre of the disaster for the rain was just pouring fantastically and the wind at its worst causing zincs, boards, vats and many other things to go flying like kites. Assisting as much as we could, with the children, my brother and I decided to swim inland, away from the sea.
Joined by eleven others of which two were men, one a woman, and the rest children, we swam for what I presumed to be two hours, resting at intervals with our burden, the six children. We reached a good shelter, on some trees about two feet above water and we decided to wait for the bitter end. It was about this time that I remembered Noah's flood and I thought that this must be a second one.
A few minutes later my attention was attracted by two horns emerging from the water a foot and a half below. Immediately
I beckoned to my nearest companion, who happened to be my brother. He tremblingly asked what this was, to which I replied that I did not know. This extra-ordinary creature came out of the water entirely. It had two horns on a head like that of a cat with teeth like that of a wolf on the body of a small dog. It was only visible for a few minutes.
After it disappeared we stood watching each other speechlessly. Half nude, with the rain burning through our skin like sharp needles, we waded our way through the water which was now subsiding rapidly and only about waist high to the village.
Arriving on the spot where the village once stood, only two buildings were visible besides the new station and the Roman Catholic mission.
It was now about 3 p.m., November 1. Not having anything to eat from the night, we were now very hungry. However, the only food there were cocoanuts and we ate these for about three days before we got aid from the U.S. Navy.
After checking our missing people we found out that forty-three were absent. This was the worst day I ever spent in my life in the little village known as Mullin's River.
I can while I´m still alive add a footnote to whoever wrote that piece. After reporting to Governor Thornly at Queen Street police Headquarters, after returning from Caye Caulker, I asked for permission to get tools and hardware from Hofius Hardware, still standing. The Governor said fine, but I asked for a written piece of paper, with his signature on it. He gave it to me, but said he couldn´t enforce it. I and a couple of Caye Caulker helpers ( one was Leslie from the Caye ) went to Hofius walking, but the manager, would not let me have anything. So I went back to Governor Thornly and he told me he could not help me. I asked for a pistol, as the crowds were looting up and down the street and the Manager of Hofius ( an Englishman ) was worried if he opened his doors he would get looted too. We had two sailboats by the then Marketing Board, on the riverside and had to walk through about 3 or 4 feet of mud around the city. I lost my shoes and never had another pair.
Anyway the Governor referred me to a military officer ( a Major ) who seemed to be in dispair and sort of crying, as he had no men, etc. I told him that I needed some soldiers to take with me and the Governor had approved it. He went on and on, but finally, a patrol just coming off a 12 hour shift, volunteered. At least one corporal and a private. I also asked the Police Seargant for a pistol, telling him the Governor had approved it. He lent me his. Not sure of the caliber, and I promised to have it back in an hour. Leslie, another fisherman, two soldiers and myself went to the Police Station gate, and the military guy officer who I had asked, said there were no lorries available, as they were either without gasoline, or on the airport shuttle for supplies.
So I asked my guys to wait and walked up the street a bit, and flagged the first 3 ton Bedford truck coming by empty. I think they had been carrying stuff to the Marketing Board shed? Anyway, I jumped in the passenger side and said I was commandeering the truck for an hour. The driver protested, but I stuck the pistol in his ribs and told him to pick up my crew by the Police Station gate. He did and off we went. We went around the back door of Hofius Hardware, as the manager refused to let us use the front door, as the mob were looting all the stores along the street, we went with the truck in the alley and had to finish knocking down a telephone pole to get to the doors. I went in by the front door and Louise Sylvester, the area representative was arguing and pleading with the manager to get tools, but the manager resolutely refused. I listened and there was a crowd in there with permission to get stuff, but the English manager wasn´t budging.
The corporal and private were with me, and they were armed, I told the Corporal to arrest the manager and he put his rifle in the guy´s belly and pushed him back against the wall. The soldier private and one of my Caye fisherman went to the back and opened the doors and we start loading, house jacks, axes, crowbars, nails, hammers and all kinds of sundry things. Finally, the manager being held against the store wall, pleaded to me, to let him at least get a pen and paper to write down the stuff I was taking. Did that, and after that everything went smoothly. We filled the truck with stuff, then went to the Marketing Board and did the same there with food. Leslie ( a Caye black man ) had got himself arrested someplace and I rescued him and we loaded the truck with food at the Marketing Board and went around to the two sailing sloops.
While the boys loaded the vessels, I took the pistol back to the police seargeant at the Queen street police station, let the soldiers go and get some sleep, the truck was sent on his way and reported to Governor Thornly that we had our stuff and were going back to Caye Caulker. He was amazed and asked how I did it. When he heard, he simply said, he didn´t want to hear any more, but give him a report on Caye Caulker next time in town. It was some days later, and at that time the British Ship had arrived and naval doctors set up in the BLISS INSTITUTE. I went in and got my feet tended too. The doctor said he took 36 pieces of glass out of my bare feet. A good salt water sea wash fixed that for infection.
The people on the Caye really did good. They organized themselves in teams, and got stuff done quick time. Several political types, went in by boat, but were unable to get any cooperation from anybody. Next time I went in, I got zincs and hardware supplies for shelters. About three weeks later, Louise Sylvester came out by British military helicopter, but things were going well and he left. A year of so later, George Price, First Minister I think? Or some title, wrote me and asked how much I wanted for my work after the Hurricane. I toted it up, and submitted a claim for $120 Bz and received a voucher for the money and one day months later cashed it. I thought it was nice to be so recognized. For some years afterward, I was joshingly called GOVERNOR on Caye Caulker.
Edited by Marty (11/21/1111:39 PM) Edit Reason: add comment from Ray
Caye Caulker’s recovery after Hurricane Hattie in 1961
The following article is an excerpt from a book compiled by John D. Friesen entitled “Hurricane Hattie, Story of the hurricane that ripped through the British Honduras – October 31, 1961″. It’s a very interesting read for all and I invite everyone to access this historical information especially for our beloved isla carinosa, Caye Caulker:
Caye Caulker’s Recovery after Hattie
Caye Caulker was split into two following Hurricane Hattie in 1961 (Photo provided by Mr. Ray Auxillou)
Caye Caulker, 20 miles north-east of Belize, near the Barrier Reef, was swept by 15 foot waves. After the Hurricane, only two good houses were left out of over 100. Almost 400 people were homeless and nearly completely wiped out with 14 known dead.
There were a few more houses numbering about 8 that were also used as refugee centers during the storm but at best were continually swept by water and badly damaged.
People were in a complete daze for the next two days as their grief and sorrow made them seemingly incapable of dealing with the situation. Meanwhile, on the second day in Belize, a fisherman from the Caye arrived in his small boat where he immediately spread the word among relatives of the terrible, bad, bad disaster there. Upon questioning the man, Mr. Ray Auxillou, an Englishman, residing in Belize, thought it was necessary to make a trip out to the Caye and bring back an accurate damage report. He set out, contacting relatives of the people on the Caye and soon a small party with a 19 ft. runabout and salt water drowned motor was found. A mechanic from Gordo’s worked on the motor feverishly while gasoline was hunted.
During the hurry and bustle of preparation, a visit to the controlling authority was paid by Auxillou to notify them of the intention to inspect the needs of the people at the Caye and the extent of the damage. Controlling authority turned out to be the Governor who seemed pleased and offered any help.
Consequently, a small list of food was obtained from the Marketing Board to be taken out for emergency use. The food turned out to be too much for the small boat and two other island sloops were comandeered at the wharf and the food loaded aboard. The speedboat with Ray Auxillou, Luis Alamina and Ilna Alamina went ahead to organize the reception and distribution of food.
Upon arrival the group were met by Constable Bernard Higinio, who was informed by Mr. Auxillou that a state of emergency was declared on the Caye, and that he would work under his authority for the time being on direct verbal orders from the Police Commissioner Bruce Taylor in Belize. A meeting of the Village Council was held at the J.P.’s house (best house remaining).
The distribution and plans for rehabilitation were discussed and after a little time, it was decided to leave things in the hands of the Village Council. However, by the next morning, it was apparent that the shock of disaster and great loss of everyone made things difficult. The Council were not reliable to adequately control or agree on what to do, people were looting and there was no spirit of cooperation. The Constable and Mr. Auxillou therefore called a public meeting that morning. The terrible situation in which the hurricane had left the whole country was described and the situation at the Caye was reviewed. Mr. Auxillou, speaking as the Governor’s representative, stated he found it necessary to declare “Martial Law” on the Caye, and in a long speech told the people that they could expect hardly any help from outside, but the best could be attempted, with no promises.
He explained how everyone should work together in cooperation with the Village Council, who would control all operations answerable to him.
Registration groups were formed immediately to list all people on the Caye, by age, name and family. A list of the destitute was made; a list of immediate requirements was also made.
The paper work took most of the day. Another meeting was held that night and “volunteer” conscription was organized with the motto “no work, no food”.
Gangs were assigned to the emergency projects in order of priority. There were the gathering and repairing of all water vats, erection of temporary shelters and looking after aid. Five serious hospital cases were sent into Belize City by boat early the next day.
Upon returning to Belize, a report was given to the Governor and a list of emergency requirements requested. These were authorized immediately and Mr. Auxillou’s authority for representing the Governor’s Emergency Hurricane Headquarters was confirmed verbally.
A tough time, even with the Governor’s written authority was experienced in getting materials, as no respect was shown to the Police Guard assigned. It was eventually found necessary to use two armed soldiers; after this was done, things worked out smoothly.
In two days’ time, the Caye had several houses standing and 19 temporary shelters. Now four weeks later, there are almost 50 complete houses, and work has stopped only because materials are lacking. At least 50 houses were swept completely away to sea.
After ten days, Mr. Auxillou passed the authority over the the Constable through the Governor, still leaving the Village Council in actual charge of operations, as the emergency crisis was deemed over, and all operations were now working fairly smoothly. The situation broke down slightly a few days later for a short time, but went back to normal again with the Village Council, now working in complete charge.
Hurricane Hattie was the deadliest tropical cyclone of the 1961 Atlantic hurricane season, as well as the strongest, reaching a peak intensity equivalent to Category 5 hurricane intensity. The ninth tropical storm and seventh hurricane and major hurricane, Hattie originated from an area of low pressure that developed and intensified into a tropical storm near San Andres Island on October 27. Moving towards the north and north-northeast, the storm quickly gained hurricane status and major hurricane status the following day. Hattie turned towards the west to the east of Jamaica, and strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 km/h) before weakening to Category 4 status at landfall south of Belize City. Continuing southwest, the storm rapidly weakened over the mountainous terrain of Central America, dissipating on November 1.
Hattie first affected regions in the southwestern Caribbean, producing hurricane force winds and causing one death on San Andres Island. It was initially forecast to continue north and strike Cuba, which prompted evacuations. Little effects were reported as Hattie turned to the west, although rainfall reached 11.5 in (290 mm) on Grand Cayman. The worst damage was in the country of Belize, which was known as British Honduras when Hattie struck. The former capital, Belize City, was flooded by a powerful storm surge and high waves and affected by strong winds. The territory governor estimated 70% of the buildings in the city were damaged, which left over 10,000 people homeless. The damage was severe enough that it prompted the government to relocate inland to a new city, Belmopan. In the territory, Hattie left about $60 million in damage and caused 307 deaths. The government estimated that Hattie was more damaging than a hurricane in 1931 that killed 2,000 people; the lower toll for Hattie was due to advanced warning. Elsewhere in Central America, the hurricane killed 11 people in Guatemala and one in Honduras.
For several days toward the end of October 1961, a low pressure area persisted in the western Caribbean Sea, north of the Panama Canal Zone. On October 25, an upper-level anticyclone moved near and over the low, and the next day, a trough over the western Gulf of Mexico provided favorable outflow for the disturbance. At 0000 UTC on October 27, a ship in the vicinity of the disturbance reported southerly winds of 46 mph (74 km/h). Later that day, the airport on San Andres Island reported easterly winds of 60 mph (95 km/h). The two observations confirmed the presence of a closed atmospheric circulation, located about 70 miles (110 km) southeast of San Andres, or 155 mi (250 km) east of the Nicaragua coast; as a result, the Miami, Florida Weather Bureau office began issuing advisories on Tropical Storm Hattie.
After being classified, Hattie moved steadily northward, passing very near or over San Andres Island. There, a station recorded a pressure of 991 mbar (29.3 inHg) and sustained winds of 80 mph (130 km/h), which indicated that Hattie reached hurricane status. Late on October 28, a Hurricane Hunters flight encountered a much stronger hurricane, with winds of 125 mph (200 km/h) in a small area near the center. At the time, gale force winds extended outward 140 miles (225 km) to the northeast, and 70 miles (115 km) to the southwest. By early on October 29, a trough extended from Nicaragua through Florida; based on the trough and climatology for similar hurricanes, Hattie was expected to continue northward. By later that day, the hurricane was predicted to be an imminent threat to the Cayman Islands and western Cuba. Around that time, a strengthening ridge to its north turned Hattie toward the northwest, which spared the Greater Antilles, but increased the threat to Central America.
With the strengthening of the ridge to its north, Hurricane Hattie began intensifying again, after retaining the same strength for about 24 hours. Initially, forecasters at the Miami Weather Bureau predicted the storm to turn northward again. Late on October 29, the center of the hurricane passed about 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Grand Cayman; at the same time, the interaction between Hattie and a ridge to its north produced squally winds of around 30 mph (50 km/h) across Florida. Early on October 30, the Hurricane Hunters confirmed the increase in intensity, reporting winds of 140 mph (225 km/h). The minimum central pressure continued to drop throughout the day, reaching 924 mbar (27.3 inHg) by 1300 UTC; a lower pressure of 920 mbar (27 inHg) was computed at 1700 UTC that day, based on a flight-level reading. Its motion curved toward the west-southwest, causing the hurricane to pass between the Cayman Islands and the Swan Islands. By late on October 30, it is estimated that Hattie attained peak winds of 160 mph (260 km/h) about 190 mi (310 km) east of the border of Mexico and British Honduras. This made Hattie the equivalence of a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, making it the latest hurricane on record to reach the status until a reanalysis of the 1932 season revealed that Hurricane Fourteen reached this status on November 5, six days after Hattie. Additionally, Hattie was the strongest measured October hurricane in the northwest Caribbean until Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Hurricane Hattie maintained much of its intensity as it continued toward the coast, and on October 31 made landfall a short distance south of Belize City after moving through several islands offshore. Its eyewall measured about 25 miles (40 km), and sustained winds were unofficially estimated at over 150 mph (240 km/h), potentially as strong as 200 mph (325 km/h). In a post-season analysis, it was determined that Hattie weakened to winds of 140 mph (225 km/h) before moving ashore. The hurricane weakened rapidly over land, dissipating on November 1 as it moved into the mountains of Guatemala. As Hattie was dissipating, Tropical Storm Simone was developing off the Pacific coast of Guatemala. There was speculation that Hattie contributed to the development of Simone, and later Tropical Storm Inga after the systems merged.
When the Miami Weather Bureau first began issuing advisories on Hattie, the agency noted the potential for heavy rainfall in the southwestern Caribbean, which could have caused flash flooding. The advisories recommended for small ships to remain at harbor, across the region. Initially, the hurricane was predicted to move near or through the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and Cuba. As a result, Cuban officials warned residents in low-lying areas to evacuate.
Hurricane Hattie first posed a threat to the Yucatán Peninsula and British Honduras on October 30, when it first turned toward the area. Officials at the Miami Weather Bureau warned of the threat for high tides, strong winds, and torrential rainfall. The warnings were transmitted to people in the affected area, allowing for extensive evacuations. Most of the people in the capital, Belize City, were evacuated or moved to shelters, although some shelters were unsafe and were destroyed in the hurricane. A hospital in the city was evacuated, and a school operated as a shelter. Over 75% of the population of Stann Creek fled to safer locations.
After Hattie made landfall, officials in Mexico order the closure of ports along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Southwestern Caribbean, Greater Antilles, and Florida
Despite predictions for heavy rainfall in the southwestern Caribbean, the hurricane's movement was more northerly than expected, resulting in less precipitation along the Central American coast than anticipated. While forming and intensifying, Hurricane Hattie passed near or over San Andrés island, which is located off the east coast of Nicaragua. The hurricane was the fourth on record to strike the island, and of the four was the only to approach from the south. While approaching the island, the airport was closed due to tropical storm force winds. Maximum sustained winds reached 80 mph (130 km/h), with gusts to 104 mph (167 km/h). The hurricane resulted in one death, fifteen injuries, and $300,000 in damage (1961 USD).
In the northwestern Caribbean, Hattie passed closest to Grand Cayman, where heavy rainfall were reported. About 11.5 inches (292 mm) were reported on the island, including 7.8 inches (198 mm) in six hours. Winds on Grand Cayman were below hurricane force, and minor damage occurred due to the heavy rainfall.
The interaction of a ridge of high pressure and the hurricane produced sustained winds of 20 mph (35 km/h) across most of Florida, with a gust of 72 mph (116 km/h) reported at Hillsboro Inlet Light; the winds produced some beach erosion in the state. Due to the high winds, the U.S. Weather Bureau issued a small craft warning for the west and east Florida coastlines, as well as northward to Brunswick, Georgia.
Hurricane Hattie moved ashore in British Honduras with powerful winds and a storm tide of up to 14 feet (4.3 m) near Belize City, a city of 31,000 people located at sea-level; the city's only defenses against the storm tide were a small seawall and a strip of swamp lands. The capital experienced a 10 ft (3 m) storm tide along its waterfront that reached the third story of some buildings, in combination with high waves. When Hattie affected the area, most buildings in Belize City were wooden, and many of the destroyed homes were made of wood. Offshore, the hurricane heavily damaged 80% of the Belize Barrier Reef, although the reef recovered after the storm.
High winds caused a power outage, downed trees across the region, and destroyed the roofs of many buildings. Governor Colin Thornley estimated that over 70% of the buildings in the territory were damaged, and over 10,000 people were left homeless. The hurricane destroyed the wall at an insane asylum, which allowed the residents to escape. High waves damaged a prison, prompting officials to institute a "daily parole" program for the inmates. Hattie also flooded the Government House, washing away all records. All of Belize City was coated in a layer of mud and debris, and majority of the city was destroyed or severely damaged, as was nearby Stann Creek. The hurricane left significant crop damage across the region, including $2 million in citrus fruits and similar losses to timber, cocoa, and bananas. About 70% of the territory's mahogany trees were downed, as were most citrus and grapefruit trees. The hurricane damaged several factories and oil rigs in the region. Damage throughout the territory totaled $60 million (1961 USD), and a total of 307 deaths were reported; more than 100 of the fatalities were in Belize City, including 36 who evacuated to a destroyed British administration building. The government of British Honduras considered Hurricane Hattie more damaging than a hurricane in 1931 that killed 2,000 people; the lower death toll of Hattie was due to advanced warning.
Hurricane Hattie also impacted other countries in Central America with flash floods, causing 11 deaths in Guatemala and one fatality in Honduras. Swan Island reported wind gusts slightly below hurricane force, with minor damage and one injury reported.
A British Honduras postage stamp overprinted in 1962 to mark the hurricane.
After Hattie struck, officials in Belize City declared martial law. A manager of United Press International described Belize City as "nothing but a huge pile of matchsticks", and the roads were either flooded for days or covered with mud. Doctors provided typhoid vaccinations to 12,000 residents in two days to prevent the spread of disease. Additionally, officials ordered for mass cremations, due to the high death toll and to stop disease spreading. The city's three newspapers were unable to operate due to lack of power after the storm. At the city's police station, workers provided fresh water and rice to storm victims. In the days after the storm, roads were flooded or otherwise impassable due to debris. Many residents throughout British Honduras donated supplies to the storm victims, such that an airlines manager described it as "taxing... manpower and facilities." One airline allowed donations to be flown to Belize City at no cost. By November 5, Belize City's post office reopened on a limited basis, but all business had remained closed. About 4,000 homeless residents from Stann's Creek were moved by boat to the northern portion of the territory. Many homeless people from the Belize City area set up a tent city about 16 mi (26 km) inland. One such refugee camp outside Belize was settled and became known as Hattieville.
About 200 British soldiers arrived from Jamaica to quell looting and maintain order. At least 20 people were arrested in the day after Hattie struck. The British government sent flights of aid to the territory containing food, clothing, and medical supplies. The House of Commons quickly passed a bill to provide £10,000 in aid. The Save the Children fund sent £1,000 to British Honduras. The Mexican government sent three flights of food and medicine to the territory. Two American destroyers arrived in the country by November 2, reporting the need for assistance. The USS Antietam remained at port for weeks after the storm with six medical officers and six Marine helicopters. Four other ships had sailed to the territory to provide assistance, along with 458,000 pounds of food. The United States government allocated about $300,000 in assistance through the International Development Association. The Canadian government provided $75,000 worth of aid, including food, blankets, and medical supplies.
By a year after Hattie struck British Honduras, private and public workers repaired and rebuilt buildings affected by the storm. New hotels were built, and stores were reopened. Prime Minister George Cadle Price successfully appealed for assistance from the British government, which ultimately provided £20 million in loans. In the days after the storm, the government announced plans to relocate the capital of British Honduras further inland. In 1970, the government built Belmopan as the new capital, located on higher ground. On the 44th anniversary of the hurricane in 2005, the government of Belize unveiled a monument in Belize City to recognize the victims of the hurricane.
The name Hattie was retired and will never be used by an Atlantic hurricane again.
The Oral Tradition Remembers The Worst Storm Of Last Century
Hurricane season 2012 starts officially on Friday, June first. And most of us don't need any reminders of how serious a storm can be - after category one Hurricane Richard tore up central and western Belize in 2010.
But as far as hurricanes go - in Belize's recorded history, Richard was like - what you might call - "wah lee breeze" - compared to Hurricane Hattie in 1961. That was one of the deadliest storms of the last century and, in Belize, it killed hundreds, while leaving thousands more without shelter.
More Belizeans died in the 1931 hurricane but that was because there was no advance warning due to primitive communication technology. With Hattie, there was warning, but still no one expected the terrible, massive damage she would deliver. Fortunately, the oral history of Hurricane Hattie is still available - and everyone who lived through the storm has a story.
A few of those histories are compiled in a new programme produced by NICH called Belize Kolcha, Hurricane Hattie. The programme - which is a 45 minute documentary will air at nine tonight on Channel Seven - but for the news tonight - we clipped out a small portion as city residents remember the storms hellish onslaught and the sight of death that followed:
52 years ago, on Tuesday, October 30th, 1961, Belize was rocked by Hurricane Hattie which caused major destruction having spent only three and a half hours over Belize. With recorded winds of 160 mph and gusts of up to 200 mph, the storm surge reached between 13 to 15 feet above sea level. Taking the brunt of the storm were the Turneffe Islands, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, followed by Belize City and the Stann Creek District. In commemoration of the aftermath of the storm, a new exhibit is on display at the Banquitas House of Culture and reporter Irvin Aragon along with Cameraman Kenric Simpson visited today and relived that historic event; here’s their story.
Irvin Aragon- Reporting
"Eye of the Storm - Fifty Years since Hurricane Hattie" is the name of a new exhibit that is on display at the Banquitas House of Culture. Hurricane at Halloween, refers to a devastating hurricane which struck British Honduras some 52 years ago, just as the residents of British Honduras were starting to breathe a sigh of relief because the 1961 hurricane season would soon be ending, however, unexpectedly, a powerful Category 5 hurricane named Hattie hit Central America on Hollow’s Eve.
In memory of the victims of the storm, a display has been organized and was officially opened on Wednesday of this week. The informative display is geared at sensitizing the public and in particular students, of what happens during a storm and what you should do to best protect yourself and family during and after a storm, especially from one of this magnitude.
Assistant coordinator at the Banquitas House of Culture, Cindy Rivero, told us more
Cindy Rivero, Assistant Coordinator at Banquitas House of Culture
“We recently opened a new exhibit entitles The Eye of a Storm Hurricane Hattie which we opened this week Wednesday. This exhibit was brought here due to the hurricane season since we want to educate the kids and the public about hurricanes. Hurricane Hattie is a very good exhibition that speaks about what happened in 1961 and this will give you knowledge of what occurs during and after a hurricane. The exhibit will be opened until August and it is dedicated to all the victims of hurricane Hattie. We want the students to get to know what the true meaning of a hurricane is because we have not experienced a hurricane like Hattie so with the exhibit they will know how many persons died, what was the effect, the new Belmopan and the relocation of the people from Belize and more.”
This year, a total of 21 storms have been predicted, namely Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Ingrid, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van, and Wendy. The exhibit will remain open until the ending of August.
Just as the residents of British Honduras were starting to breathe a sigh of relief because the 1961 hurricane season would soon be ending, a powerful Category 5 hurricane named Hattie hit Central America on Halloween. The Atlantic hurricane season in 1961 officially began on June 15 and ended on October 31.
Unlike the hurricane which devastated British Honduras in September of 1931 and killed over 2000 persons, eleven years previous to Hattie Atlantic tropical cyclones began to be given names; and three years later in 1953 were first given female names. Janet was therefore the first ‘female’ to hit the country in 1955 when it made landfall in the north. Hattie’s appearance in 1961 was the second female-named hurricane to make landfall in the country; and packing winds in excess of 150 miles per hour was unprecedented until hurricane Mitch in 1998.
The year 1961 saw various firsts both internationally and nationally. The United States saw its youngest President, John F. Kennedy, being inaugurated; and the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man to orbit the earth. Significantly the first ever weather satellite, Tiros 1, which would eventually help forecasters to track and interpret hurricanes, was launched in 1961. In British Honduras the first woman, Gwendolyn Lizarraga, ever to contest a national election won a seat in the Legislative Assembly; and the Battle of St. George’s Caye was branded as a myth by certain sectors. Considered mild in terms of landfalling hurricanes, that was the ‘climate’ which heralded the 1961 season.
Comparatively speaking Belize has traditionally been rarely hit by hurricanes due to its geographic location. This is borne out by the thirty year interval between the violent storms of 1931 and 1961. Although the 1961 season did not see a hurricane forming until July 20, and with no storms at all during August, the activity started in September when in that month and the following months there would be ten storms, eight hurricanes and seven major hurricanes.
Hattie was a rare powerful late season hurricane which formed in that fertile area of the Southwestern Caribbean where sea surface temperatures are warm and where upper level westerly winds that take shape in the Gulf of Mexico do not penetrate that far south. Hattie was first classified as a tropical system on October 27, and actually developed so quickly that it immediately became a tropical storm. By midnight it had reached hurricane intensity, continuing northward through the western Caribbean and grew stronger on October 28 and 29, posing serious threats to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and western Cuba.
However, on October 29 a ridge to the north turned Hattie toward the northwest, sparing the Greater Antilles but then threatening Central America. Hattie moved into the Gulf of Honduras on October 30 as a Category 4 storm with winds of 132 mph. Curving then toward the west-southwest Hattie had attained winds of 160 mph and was located about 190 miles east of the border of Mexico and British Honduras. Hattie at that stage had reached the equivalence of a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, and attained the record of being the strongest measured hurricane in the northwest Caribbean up to that time, until hurricane Mitch took that honor in 1998.
Tracking on a direct path to British Honduras Hattie hit the coast from midnight to 3 a.m. on Halloween, which was a Tuesday on October 31, 1961. With recorded winds of 160 mph and gusts of up to 200 mph, the storm surge reached 13-15 feet above tide level. Taking the first brunt of the storm was the Turneffe Islands, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, followed by Belize City and the Stann Creek District.
Because officials at the Miami Weather Bureau had warned of the threat for high tides, high winds and heavy rainfall, residents in the capital Belize City, Stann Creek District and low-lying areas had been evacuated or moved to shelters. In the aftermath it was found that most of Belize City and Stann Creek was destroyed or severely damaged. Crop damage, including citrus which was estimated at $2 million, was inflicted on cacao, bananas, as well as losses to timber. It was estimated that the $60 million in property losses caused by Hattie in 1961, which accounted for about 75% of houses and business places, would translate to $370 million today. Fatalities numbered 262 with more than 100 in Belize City, and the comparatively low number in relation to 1931 was attributed to advanced warning.
On its way to British Honduras hurricane Hattie had passed over San Andres Island off the east coast of Nicaragua resulting in one death and 15 injuries. Other countries in Central America were affected by flash floods which caused 11 deaths in Guatemala and one in Honduras.
After the storm had passed there were thousands of survivors roaming the streets looking for food, clothing and shelter. Looting and pillaging incited some measure of violence in Belize City which caused a British frigate to land troops to assist the police.
From formation to dissipation Hattie lived for six days, being one of the shortest lasting storms on record. However, to those who lived through it and experienced the hardships and grief it engendered for many years, it lasted a lifetime. Hattie lost much of its power by the afternoon of October 31, and was downgraded to a tropical storm while over Guatemala. Continuing westward it crossed Central America, and on November 1 emerged in the western Pacific Ocean in the Gulf of Tehautepec. It spent half a day as a tropical depression in the Gulf before regaining sufficient strength to be renamed Tropical Storm Simone by the San Francisco Weather Bureau. Moving westward on November 2 Simone then made a turn to the north passing over Saline Cruz, Mexico.
Seemingly having a mind of its own, and again downgraded to a tropical depression it headed back toward the Gulf of Mexico over mountainous terrain which caused its winds to drop to 30 mph. Finding warm waters in the Bay of Campeche, on November 3 Simone, then only a depression, began to reorganize. By the following day the new storm reached tropical strength and was named Inga which became the last Atlantic storm of the 1961 season. Inga struggled to reach hurricane strength as it moved northward then southward off the Mexican coast in its last few days, but only able to garner 70 mph winds the killer that had been Hattie died for good on the morning of November 8. Pundits contend that Hattie-Simone-Inga was one storm that moved from Atlantic to Pacific and back to the Atlantic.
In keeping with the policy that the names of killer hurricanes be removed from the rotating list, the name Hattie was retired after 1961 and will never be used for an Atlantic Hurricane again. The name was replaced by Holly in 1965.
The damage that Hattie had wrought on Belize City was so severe that the government opted to build a new capital city located 50 miles inland on high ground and safe from tidal waves; and on its completion in 1970 the seat of government was moved to Belmopan. In 2011 the population of Belmopan is some 20,000, but Belize City still remains the country’s center of population with 75,000 people.
Two other communities were established as refugee camps after hurricane Hattie caused many persons to be homeless. Hattieville, with a present population of about 1,300, is located 17 miles from Belize City on the Western Highway; while Georgetown is located off the Southern Highway in the Stann Creek District accommodating those persons who were displaced along the coast after 1961. The mass migrations to North America of Belizeans that occurred in the 1960s following Hattie are often cited as being caused by the hurricane.
Those persons who ‘weathered’ Hattie will after half a century forever retain memories of that hurricane at Halloween in 1961. Today hurricane forecasting and tracking has greatly improved, and Belize can boast a National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) comprising efficient persons from the public and private sectors. Although vigilance will always be uppermost in the minds of Belizeans during the Atlantic Hurricane season, fears will be alleviated in the assurance that a well equipped meteorological and emergency organization machinery are in place.
(Lawrence Vernon, Meg Craig, Belize Music World, Village View Post, GPC Belize)
Fire Station, North Front Street
Basket is for whatever food she could find, I doubt she was taking in laundry or selling food, because after Hattie people went for ration over a year. I was small but I remember.
Corner Bishop & Albert streets. We lived on Bishop street, above Sikaffy's bodega. We stayed at home & it was a living nightmare
Market Square, Belize City, after Hurricane Hattie
More than 400 people were killed in Belize, the capital of British Honduras, by a tidal wave in the wake of Hurricane Hattie that hit the area with winds of 200 mph. The storm also left many missing and thousands homeless. Gov. Sir Colin Thornley estimated that more than 75 percent of the buildings in Belize had been destroyed or damaged by the disaster "that overwhelmed our estimates."
Hurricane Hattie Belize 1961
1962 After Hurricane Hattie Belize
BELIZE - HURRICANE HAVOC
Flying over Belize, the capital of British Honduras, it's heart-rending to see the terrible havoc wrought by hurricane Hattie. Out of a population of about 30,000, it's estimated that over 15,000 have been made homeless. The death roll is not yet known. Supplies were not long in being flown in by Britain and America. Help of every kind was urgently needed, for all local services were out of action.
Monday, October 31, marked 55 years since an event that changed the course of history in many ways of the then colony of British Honduras. The year was 1961; that event was a category five hurricane by the name of Hattie.
Belize had been hit in 1931 by a strong hurricane and the number of lives lost was over 2,500. The loss was great because there was very little warning. The hurricane struck on September 10, a day when the “natives” were out commemorating the Battle of St. George’s Caye. The then governor of the colony refused to warn the citizens, since in his mind the common folks were relieving the stress of a very hard life in the colony.
Six years before Hattie, Hurricane Janet did great damage to Corozal and Chetumal (Payo-Bispo). There was much more warning for Hattie, although many did not heed the warnings.
The storm confused us more by, by-passing us on a northerly direction, stalling and then making a complete turn heading straight for British Honduras.
The devastating winds and tidal surge destroyed most of Belize City and the surrounding areas. Today there is still evidence of the hurricane; many houses were brought down to ground level; and the big islands were split by the tidal surge.
Belize got by with some foreign aid, and the US opened its doors for those who wanted to go north. After self-government in 1964, Premier George Cadle Price had a hard time to keep the country focused on rebuilding; most people’s goal was to go to the US.
Many who remained waited on remittances and barrels to get by. The huge exodus caused severe social problems in family structure in the seventies and eighties; meanwhile, today Central Americans fleeing civil wars have now filled that void.
This has caused a severe strain on our society, including our education and labour system etc.
As we approach November, we are breathing a sigh of relief (knock on wood), as we are at the end of the hurricane season.
On August 4 we were hit by category one Hurricane Earl, from which we are still recovering. We now take hurricanes much more seriously.