Remembering: Hurricane Hattie 50 Years Ago
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 picture above is that of a street that most Belizeans do not know it exists.
COCKBURNE LANE, by old St John's Cathedral, connecting Regent street with Albert Street. Most of the Belize City streets looked just like this street. - Bull Doozers had to be used to clear the streets of Belize City.
Market Square, Belize City, after Hurricane Hattie. 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. Talking to the town Mayor, Mr. Wesley, left. The First Minister, centre, who was making private visits to distressed people. This particular house is a complete loss.
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. The British Force Helicopter drops netfull of foodstuff at the Northern end of Memorial Park in November 1961 right after Hurricane Hattie. In terms of the relief effort, while you had a British contingent in British Honduras, the Americans were the first to provide significant relief with personnel and supplies. More British troops arrived from Jamaica a few days after the hurricane, and they assisted in stopping the looting in Belize City. I think in order of international relief you had the ill fated flight of the Mexican plane with medical personnel from Chetumal (crashed), and then you had two planes of supplies and medical personnel from Guatemala. The Guatemala relief effort caused some controversy.
Village View Post
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.
In 1961 Belizeans lined up for food after Hurricane Hattie destructive landing in Belize.
I was 11 and can sometimes hear that sound of the wind and zink's ripping from it's roofings and that frightening sound as our house break loosed from it stilts and as we bounded together tossing in the wind whilst trying to take refuge at the NE neighbors it was horrible all night until 8:00 A.M. Everything was calm completely still and suddenly there was a huge noise with a huge wall off water ripping every thing in it's path wooden vats houses and more not long the water came up too the upper floor at the house we took refuge the water stayed for a while and when my brother and I decided to go check the neighborhood we were walking on c corps scarrey. Everywhere was like a bomb hit us. We were finally able
to worked our way into downtown and saw boats in the park and on Albert st. the church was reduced to bricks strewed around it was hell we would get ration twice a week. My brother was Mayor and we got NUFF helped. We lived on Vernon st.and mussels st. by Pilgrim sawmill and Londo's alley. Two water's ways. The canal and the river's they were burning corpses on sight for day's.
by Daniel Meighan
In books by the newspaperman Ernest Cain, the Mennonite farmer John Friesen, and civil servant Milton Arana they all wrote about the line for food rations.
There is a memorable picture of Hurricane Hattie survivors cuing up in a line on North Front Street near the Marketing Board for food rations from the government agency. Looting had resulted in chaos in others parts of the city, but near the marketing board residence of the city waited patiently in the long orderly line to receive rations that came from the Marketing Board warehouse. But one wonders about whether residents of the city would have been in such an orderly line that stretched for several blocks if not for the fact that the line was guarded.
Regardless, many Belizean who were interviewed about the hurricane remembered standing in lines for food rations. “We all had to form long and exhausting lines in order to receive our weekly rations” wrote one women, when she recalled her memories of the hurricane on FB at the 50th anniversary of the hurricane
In little Belize City the elite and those with status found themselves waiting for rations along with the poor. Some of these more affluent residents most likely came from the nearby Fort George area, where some of the elegant homes were severely damaged and destroyed. In the aftermath of the hurricane the lines for rations reflected one instance in which a natural disaster became a social leveler.
Highlighting how the hurricane had become a social leveler and the extent to which aid would come from abroad Arana (1993:32) had this to say: "This was one time when money seems to have lost its power. A pocketful of five-dollar bills did not ensure a full stomach. However willing a person was to spend money, generally there was nothing to spend it on. It was a practical lesson in economics….In such terrible circumstances, the destitute people might very well have invoked the old adage that necessity knows no law. They had no way of knowing that more than enough food, clothing, and other supplies would soon be rushed to them from abroad. At the moment they had to face and do something about the stark reality of the present”
Arana, Milton. 1993. “Cry Wolf: The Story of Hurricane Hattie. ” New York, NY: Vantage Pr.
Cain, Ernest E. 1963. Cyclone "Hattie": Being an Illustrated Record of the Hurricane and Tidal Wave which Destroyed the City of Belize in British Honduras on the 31st day of October, 1961. Devon: Arthur H. Stockwell Limited.
Friesen, John D. (comp). 1964. Hurricane “Hattie”: Story of the Hurricane that Ripped through the British Honduras, on October 31, 1961. J.D. Friesen (Chihuahua, Chi. Mexico).
by Jerome Straughan