HURRICANE HATTIE ON AMBERGRIS
CAYE BY DON SEVERO
A Hurricane Does Unbelievable Things....
These were the first words that Don Severo Castillo said
to me when I asked him to tell
me his incredible "adventure"
and how he and other San
Pedrano fishermen survived
the fury of Hurricane Hattie,
which zeroed on into Belize on
that fateful Halloween Night,
The following is Don
Severo's amazing story.
Our fishing boat, "La Florita" was
docked at the mouth of the Belize City
River, loaded up with "taciste" for the
"nasas" (wood for making lobster
traps), and we were sitting down in the
early morning eating a snack and
listening to the latest weather reports
on the radio. We knew that there was
a hurricane in the Caribbean, but at ten
o'clock in the morning, the all clear
was given by the radio and flag signal
at the river, indicating that the
hurricane was not a threat for Belize.
The radio report said that Hurricane
Hattie was heading towards the
vicinity of Jamaica and Cuba, away
Gabriel, "Tatin" Rosado, the owner of
"La Florita" decided that we should
head to the Turneffe Islands to start
laying down the lobster traps. The
three of us arrived at Turneffe
sometime in the late afternoon and
noticed that there were hundreds of
lobsters around the mangroves
surrounding Shell Caye. It was a great
sight for the eyes of fishermen, but
something on the back of my head told
me that it seemed like a
bad omen seeing the lobsters behave
in this manner. We didn't realize at
the time that the lobsters were trying
to hide from the approaching storm.
By this time, the wind had picked up
and the waves were starting to get
bigger. Our third companion on the
Florentino "Yach" Gonzalez was
shouting, "Let the wind blow. It's
great for lobster fishing!" Of course,
he didn't know that Hurricane Hattie
had made a 180 degree turn and
"boomeranged" straight for Belize.
Early that evening, another boat crew
who had anchored on the northern
side of Shell Caye joined us. Ramon
and.Leoli Varela told us the bad news.
We switched on the radio
to hear reports that Hurricane Hattie
was predicted to strike between
Corozal and Chetumal, Mexico in the.
next 12 hours. That meant it was
heading straight towards us and the
small Caye offered very little protection
against such a huge hurricane, Leoli
and Ramon headed back to their boat
later on the evening, and by this time,
the wind was howling and the waves
were starting to crash on top our boat.
We knew we were in dire straits. Our
minds were racing in
thinking about our
families in San
Pedro, about the
other fishermen in
the vicinity, the approaching storm, and how to prepare against it.
have time to do
"La Lupita" capsized under the strength of huge waves, the high winds, and the heavy rains. The three of us were washed away by the waves into the middle of the Caye, which by this time seemed like a huge pile of mangroves and coconut trees strewn on top of another and water gushing in all directions. Fortunately, we managed to get a hold of one of
our doreys (small canoes) and immediately turned it over and put it over
our heads. It protected us from the
pelting rain, which felt like small
stones bitting you at full force. We
spent the next, hour struggling against
the waves, tree branches, cold, and
underwater currents, but managed to
somehow stay near
the same spot all the time. The storm surge on top of the Caye had water reaching up to our chests and many times smacking us hard in our faces and stinging our eyes. Imagine yourself, if you can, in this situation:
It is pitch black, you are in water
up to your chest there are
howling winds of up to 150 m.ph.
blowing outside, and you are clinging on to dear life to a wooden dorey,
which is your only "protection"
against this awesome force of nature.
If you didn't know or believed in God
before, I guarantee you will find Him
during such horrible moments."
During the first hour of the hurricane, all we did was prayed and
prayed. Many times I thought, this
was it, I'm going to die,- but I continued
praying to God to help us sur-
vive the storm. And then it was
calm ... dead calm ... e e r i e
calm ... blessedly calm. We moved the
dorey that was. Above our heads and
saw a crystal clear, bright shining
starry night. It was quite a moment.
We knew that we had only about an
hour to collect our senses before the
second violent wave hit us. And this
time, the force of the storm would be
coming from the dreaded south, the
most violent part of a hurricane. At
this time, we didn't know whether
Ramon and Leoli were still alive on
the northern part of Shell Caye, if
there was still a northern part.
Around 2:00 a.m., we noticed the sea
level rising steadily against the tree
branches, signaling the approaching
end- of the calm "eye" of the storm,
and the three of us looked at each
other and sadly wondered whether we
would be able to survive the second
round. And then it hit, and the walls
of water kept crashing on top of us
and around us, with never ending
fierceness. The nightmare seemed to
go on forever. I still do not know how
we kept our strength during the night,
but afterwards, we realized our prayers
gave us courage and comfort to
endure the storm.
Finally, it was over around 11:00
a.m. the next day. Shell Caye was
something else. The trees looked as if
a firestorm had gone over them
burning their leaves and branches.
This was a result of the relentless
fierce winds and rains hitting them.
We couldn't find our boat; neither did
Leoli and Ramon, who had survived
the hurricane also. We were stranded
on the Caye, overrun by the sea,
without any food or water to drink. Our
chances of surviving this other
dilemma seemed very small.
We endured another day and night at
Shell Caye, shivering against the cold,
thirsty and hungry.
The next day, we decided to get out
of the Caye with our dorey, but it as
difficult because the seas were ill
rough and the small dorey kept capsizing.
Luckily for us, another fishing
vessel, "The Argonaut" had surived the hurricane in another part of
Turneffe, and its crew members
immediately set out looking for survivors.
We were rescued by the Argonaut's
crew who had seen us from very far
away doing battle against the waves
with our small dorey. Boy! Were we
glad to see the Argonaut and Secun
Gonzalez, Henry Henkis, Jose Gonzalez,
Andrew Bradley and Eduardo Brown Sr.
(Andrew and Eduardo had themselves
survived a terrible ordeal during
Hurricane Janet in November 1955, which
killed Eduardo Brown's entire family and
left him as an orphan at the tender age of
After we were given water and fed
by the Argonaut's crew, the 17 year-old Captain, Eduardo Brown, decided to
head straight to Belize City
to get more supplies. On the way,
Eduardo and the crew told us how
they had survived
Hattie by securing
their boat in a small
and tying up the Argonaut to the highest
point of the tallest
branches to make
amends for the storm
surge. Theirs is another amazing story
As soon as we arrived at Belize
City, we stocked up
on water, food and
medicines and then
headed straight for San Pedro, fearful of what we might see at our beloved village.
It was much "better" than what we expected; there had been a lot of homes
destroyed, but nobody had died and the villagers were already up and rebuilding.
Three days after the
hurricane, supplies were running low on San Pedro, but lucky for us, the British
Army and an American supply ship provided us with more. When I look back at
that harsh and distressful episode of my life, I always think that I was given a
second chance to live and look at life at a different way- to live fully in both its
good and bad moments."
Don Severo eventually returned to Shell Caye with his fellow fishermen where they
found out that a total of 49 souls had been lost at Turneffe during hurricane Hattie,
mostly Garifuna fishermen who were camping with their families at the islands.
Other fishermen had tugged their boat "La Florita" to a nearby Caye. During the
time their boat was underwater, it had served as a lobster trap, and when they
started bailing it out, they found hundreds of lobsters inside. After the hurricane,
the fishermen had an awesome lobster catch, but most of the money they made
went out to pay bills incurred as a result of the hurricane.
Hurricane Hattie packed winds of more than 150 m.p.h., very similar to the strength that Hurricane Mitch had,
considered a Category 5 hurricane, the worst of its kind. Belize City was hit hard and devastated
by Hattie- approximately
500 souls perished during the hurricane and hundreds of homes were lost. in Caye Caulker, 14 people lost
their lives and
almost all the houses were destroyed. San Pedro did not suffer the loss of any lives, but most of the village
badly damaged. Back in thos days, folks relied solely on radios for information and weather reports, which
somewhat on their preparedness against powerful storms. May all the souls who perished during these tragic