Part of Dangriga Town after Hurricane Hattie

1961 - Hurricane hits Belize

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


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.

More on Hurricane Hattie

More on Hurricane's in Belize, including Hattie


Hattie was the worst in our history

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.

Alfonso C. Ramirez, 11/4/2016

Unsung Hero: Mr Arthur “Banza" Arnold

Hurricane Hattie must have created 100s of unsung heroes that we may never know about because their heroism may have been lost through the passage of time, or nobody around to tell their stories. One of these unsung heroes was no other than Arthur “Banza" Arnold. I have no picture to post of Mr. Arnold and I am not sure if he is even still alive. I am hoping he is though. I am also hoping a relative, or a friend will see this post and will post a picture of this unsung hero for everyone to see. Here is as excerpt from the book “Hurricane Hattie” by John D. Friesen, which shares with us his extraordinary feat of bravery.

The Hero of Hurricane Hattie

In a letter to this newspaper Mr. L. D. (Prince Dee) Kemp had high praise for a man whom he called "The Hero of Hurricane Hattie." The man, Arthur Arnold, better known as Banza, was responsible for saving the lives of 18 persons who were trapped in what was left of three houses on Euphrates Ave. and couldn't escape drowning, Mr. Kemp said. Mr. Kemp's story was backed up by Mr. 'Sunt' Trumbach, who witnessed Banza's acts of bravery. Mr. Kemp, and his family who sought refuge at Mr. Gerald Smith's home on Glynn Street along with the Ashby family, Mr. 'Sunt' Trurnbach's family and others tells the story in this way: . "With the water rising up to about a few inches from the floor of the Smith's house about eight feet from the ground, we heard that eighteen persons were in what was left of three houses on Euphrates Avenue, and could not escape drowning. "Shortly after a man with a boy of seven or eight years old on his back was seen trying to swim the 60 or 70 feet to the Smith's home. "With floating debris shooting across most of their path like battering rams, there were words of prayer in our hearts that they would make it. After a dive under some debris, there was a separation, but the boy was active and eventually they made it. We hauled the boy in through a window and had a chance to see the rescuer. It was 'Banza.' 'Banza was given a rope which he tied from the Smith's house to what looked like a certain death trap. But 'Banza', with the spirit and ability of the finest specimen of native manhood, made eighteen trips across the death trap and saved about nine children, two pregnant women and other females. "At one stage during his adventurous trips across the rope, 'Banza' caught cramp in the water, but he managed to pull through, even though a man who tried to go to his aid couldn't make it. "Another priceless act of humanity was Mrs. Gerald's act of providing clothing for the drenched, frightened and ragged eighteen and bedding for the night. -, "The press should check on this story so that the 'Spirit of Banza' can be a public record."

P.S. Belize's Highest Civilian Award is the "Order of National Hero" and is given to a Belizean who in their life attains "extraordinary and outstanding achievement and merit in service to Belize or to humanity at large". It is my opinion that on October 31st, 1961, during the fury of Hurricane Hattie and withnesses by Messrs Kemp, Smith, Ashby and Trumbach at a home with a Glyn Street Address, Mr Arthur "Banza" Arnold selflessly performed extraordinarily and outstandingly in service to humanity at large without regard for himself and in so doing saved the life of 18 Belizeans, which included two pregnant women. For this extaordinary documented feat I am in the believe that Mr. Arnold should receive the "Order of Naitonal Hero" or at least "Order of Belize". Only three people have been given this award to date and they are George Cadle Prize in 2000, Philip Goldson in 2008 and Monrad Metzgen in 2009. It is now 2017 and we are due to give a another deserving Citizen this award, why not Mr. Arnold. What say you?

Source: Hurricane “Hattie” Story of the hurricane that ripped through the British Honduras, on October 31, 1961 compiled by John D. Friesen

Photo Credit: John D. Frisen

The entire book may be located at the following link: