REPORT #174 Feb 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

On the Belize Culture Listserve ( to join send a message to: [email protected] and put subscribe in the body of the message. No other entries on the e-mail ), the debate on how much a Hurricane would damage the economy of Belize and the tourist business in particular continues;

Susan Garcia thinks that a hurricane strike in Belize would not ruin the tourist industry more than one, or maybe two years. Ray Auxillou feels that the time could be 3 to 6 years.

Hurricane Hattie effectively shut down the country of Belize for about 3 years. Hurricane Hattie in 1961 was a Force 2 and possibly partially a Force 3 Hurricane. The hurricane frontal surge ran over Belize City. The devastation extended from Dangriga to Caye Caulker, with minor damage outside of these boundaries. Hurricane Andrew in Southern Florida in 1992 was a similar hurricane and ran over the southern area of metropolitan Dade County. The devastation was vast, but again limited to a swath cut through the county about 15 to 20 miles wide as the hurricane headed southwest. Nor are the houses in this metropolitan county built for hurricanes. The construction continues to be weak and shoddy. There are no mortise and tenon joints in woodwork, insufficient reinforcing steel in concrete construction and no 1/4 inch by 3 inch angle iron, through bolted to roofs. They use simple clips and press on metal joiners.

Hurricane Mitch that halted about 40 to 60 miles from Belizean shores a year ago was a category 5 hurricane. This was a different story and if this hurricane had followed the same path as Hurricane Hattie back in 1961, the damage would probably be at least 64 times worse and covering a much wider segment of the country, possible from Monkey River to Xcalak, Mexico. Hurricanes are measured by a Force scale. 95% of the hurricanes that hit the West Indie islands are Force 1, or Force 2 Hurricanes. While they may be several hundred miles wide, the destructive force in front of the hurricane is usually 10 to 15 miles wide. Nor are the wind forces that high. I myself, have rode three hurricanes out at sea in sailboats. None were higher than Force 2. I do not believe there is a ship made that could survive a Force 5 Hurricane like Mitch of last year, running over it, at sea.

Hurricane damage and wind force rises with the scale. But it is not simple increases. It is exponential! I forget the actual damage increase, but it is roughly 8 times, the power of the preceding hurricane force on the scale, for each jump. That said, Hurricane Mitch of a year ago would have been nearly 64 times worse in damage and force than Hurricane Hattie that devasted Belize in 1961, if you could imagine such a thing. Also the spread of the damage was much greater. Mitch was 300 miles wide. The actual worse damage would have covered about an 80 mile swath.

One time, I flew along the Yucatan coast just after a small hurricane had gone ashore. The Yucatan coast a couple of decades ago, was lightly inhabited. The spine of the Yucatan back inland about a 100 miles is around 2000 ft. When you fly along the coast you can see the jungle canopy like a lawn of green grass, but it is treetops rising off into the distance in a gentle rising slope. This particular hurricane had gone ashore and directly northwest. As far as the eye could see, there was a clear swath cut through those 150 ft trees about 7 to 10 miles wide. The edges were cut so clear, it looked like a lawnmower had cut through a lawn that was overgrown and left a single swath of leveled debris in the path of the lawnmower. Not a tree was left standing in that swath. This was a small hurricane, compact and about a Force 2 and maybe Force 3 in the central part. Similar to Hurricane Hattie that hit Belize in 1961. It looked like a tornado 10 miles wide had cut through the forest leaving nothing standing.

If one were to consider Hurricane Mitch of last year as a comparison, the swath of devastation and damage would have been 80 miles wide and the damage force about 64 times greater than Hurricane Hattie that hit Belize in 1961.

Susan mentions all the re-building that goes on after a hurricane. These impressions are mostly taken from news reports of 95% of the hurricanes found in the Caribbean that never get over Force 2. It is the odd hurricane like Mitch that you have to watch for. Susan is right. A Force 1, or 2 hurricane striking Belize would damage the tourist industry, probably only for one year, maybe two years. A Hurricane Hattie, a Force 3 hurricane would take 3 years to recover from. But a Force 5 Hurricane like Mitch would easily take 5 to 6 years to recover from if anybody in the prime tourist attractions were left alive to do any construction. Since most of the tourism is centered on the offshore islands, in the case of a Force 5 hurricane hit, there would be nobody and nothing left to re-build. Indeed, Hurricane Mitch if it had come ashore and gone west, would have destroyed all the meaningful diversified economy of Belize for the next 20 years. The strength would not have declined until it hit the Peten in Guatemala. I still see that minor hurricane damage on the coast of the Yucatan in my minds eye from an airplane. Visualizing that damage, but many times more forceful and wider leads me to believe, that the country of Belize would have been completely devastated all the way to the Western border by Hurricane Mitch. If you can imagine a bush hog going through the country, that is what would have been left. Survivors, of course, but a lot of deaths also.

I think in conclusion, when considering the economy of Belize, we also have to consider the Force Scale of a pending hurricane and the diameter of the most intense winds; also what would be in the path of the front of the center.

It boggles the mind of those of us, who survived Hurricane Hattie in 1961 in the port Belize City or on Caye Caulker, to even consider what could have happened if Hurricane Mitch 64 times greater than Hurricane Hattie and 6 times as wide a path, had Mitch taken the same path as Hattie. I believe Belize would have for all intensive purposes no longer existed as we knew it. It would have been back to subsistance living, catch and kill, for many years and certainly a couple of decades. My daughter Sharon, who cowered in the shower of her home, with her family in South Florida during 1992 Hurricane Andrew, a very small hurricane similar to the Belize Hurricane Hattie of 1961; that ripped off her house roof and destroyed homes far and wide in the path for only a short period of time, maybe a few hours ( it was a fast moving small hurricane, Force 2 to 3 ); would not I believe, like to sit through any Hurricane Mitch of a Force 5. Nor would I. I'd dig a hole in the ground and bury myself, hoping for no flooding. Hoping I would be able to dig myself out from the debris in the aftermath.

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