AS THE DATE APPROACHES, WHEN HURRICANE HATTIE DEVASTATED A LARGE PORTION OF BRITISH HONDURAS, on October 31st, 1961, it is fitting to inform our fellow Belizeans. on the real story of those events.
In July 1st 1960, the Belize City Council passed a Resolution requesting Central Government, to locate a higher ground for the SEAT OF GOVERNMENT. - - - ( there was no sign of any Hurricane or pending Catastrophe.)
Central Government embraced the idea and began to explore and consult Belizeans. - - -( Mr Price said. "Let us consult the University of the people."
By the ending of 1960, suggestions had been made, on that possible NEW SITE. ( This was the word used to describe the Idea, - New Site )
These were the sites suggested.- BURREL BOOM, MULLINS RIVER, - AUGUSTINE MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE, - MILE 31, ON THE WESTERN HIGHWAY, and of course, that site near Riaring Creek, - - ( precisely BETWEEN the Western Highway and the Humming Bord Highway, )
CRITICS began their insults against Mr Price, especially those of the Opposition Parties.-The UDP predecessors ( Maya sites etc etc.)
On March 1st 1961, the PUP SWEPT ALL 18 SEATS IN THE FIRST HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. - ( which was then called Legislative Assembly.
BAM,BAM Hurricane Hattie strikes on October 31,1961 which destroyed Belize City, Mullins River, Dangriga and surrounding areas.
IT WAS THEN OUR TASK TO TAKE THE DECISION, WHICH BROUGHT the IDEA of a NEW CAPITAL for British Honduras.
I remember that morning when I was sheltering at the MAYA HOTEL ,( Don Wahib Habet 4 Story House ). - We heard the shout, - " Mr HOPUN HOUSE GONE. " Then another shouted, " SLAUGHTER HOUSE GONE. " - Then " Jorge Espat Roof di fly ". - Then " Kalim Habet di baul for help, because flood reaching his second floor," - - WHAT A SAD DAY FOR ALL.- There was no food in town. - Ware houses were flooded. - I had to go to the Marketing Board in Belize City, on Public Works Trucks with DC Ramon Ramirez to get food for our area. - Mean while I made several missions on Helicopter to the Villages that were innundated, taking food and blankets.
We got that report that some residents of Mullins River had saved by climbing Coconut trees. - Similarly, our beloved Bishop Dorrick Wright was saved on a Coconut Tree, while his remaining family were drowned. - There are so many such stories. - AS to myself, I lived in Belize City at that time, but I left around 11 PM, when I began to see the severity shaping up. The road ws terrible going up. I reached San Ignacio at 3 AM in the morning, - I was then the Mayor and the Representative.
( The pictures below show part of the devastation of Belize City, and THE FIRST DRAFT OF BELMOPAN. )
Text and photos courtesy Hector Silva
TODAY OCTOBER 30th OCTOBER 1961. at 4.20 .P.M.
" UNU BUAY HURRICANE HATTIE DI COME STRAIGHT DA BELIZE.! " - -
These were the words of Mr Eustace Usher, as he passed us in haste while we stood by the Treasury Building on a beautiful clear and sunny evening. He was going to Radio Belize, at the " Albert Cattouse Building " to give the FLASH ADVISORY.
I can recall my friends who stood bye in awe.
Hon. Louis Sylvester, German Williams, Controller of Customs J.J. Rabateau and friend Ebelio Noble.
AS SOON AS THE RADIO made the announcement, the sirene at the Paslow Building began to BLOW THE WARNING BLAIR. and Belize City went crazy.
The gas stations were saturated with customers, and the few Hard Ware Stores still opened, were rushed by people buying, Ply Wood, Nails, Zink, Hammers, and the shops selling food items, batteries, medicines, etc. ( there was no bottled water in those days )
THE BOARDING OF BUILDINGS began in a rush. The few schools and public buildings assigned as Shelters were immediately opened.
I WENT HOME and told my In Laws and my wife that we would have to leave immediately, because the warnings were SEVERE.
SO at 11:20 PM (NIGHT we loaded with whatever, and we headed to San Ignacio, where I served as the Mayor of the Town.
IT WAS VERY ROUGH GOING. telephone poles, and a few branches of Pine trees were already falling on the Road.
THE JOURNEY WAS BUMPER TO BUMPER with hundreds of vehicles.
It took me 4 hours to reach San Ignacio. I reached at 3.25 AM.
I accomodated my family with my five babies in my room, at the Maya Hotel, and I began my duties as Mayor.
THE IMAGE OF THE MACAL RIVER running UP STREAM, will forever remain in my mind. ( never seen before )
BY 9.00 AM most of the Commercial Center was under flood.
( I leave you all with this sad memory, left by Hurricane Hattie, 56 years ago.
( The following is a picture taken from the Hawkesworth Bridge, when the river began to raise at a RAPID PACE. )
============Remembering Hurricane Hattie
by Evan X Hyde for Amandala
The Saturday, October 28, 1961 issue of British Hondurasí leading newspaper, The Belize Billboard, reported that Hurricane Hattie had appeared in the Caribbean 550 miles southwest of Kingston, Jamaica, and 50 miles northwest of San Andres Island off Nicaragua. That same issue of the newspaper reported that 108 more British Hondurans had left for Florida, joining 109 of their brethren who had left earlier that week after being contracted to do farm work for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.
On the following day, in the Sunday, October 29 issue of The Billboard, there was absolutely no mention of Hattie: that fatal storm had visibly begun heading north. On Tuesday night, approaching midnight, October 31, 1961, Category Five Hurricane Hattie, which had made an abrupt turn hard southwest, began destroying Belize, the capital of British Honduras; Stann Creek Town; and points in between.
In fact, and in retrospect, two other hurricanes had alarmed British Hondurans earlier that year. On Sunday, July 23, 1961, Hurricane Anna, which had threatened the entire B. H. coast, eventually moved south and struck Mango Creek and Placencia with 80 mile an hour winds. There were no human casualties. In early September, just seven weeks before Hattie, Hurricane Carla had moved northwards after threatening Belize. The mood in Belize towards Hattie, because of the two earlier threats, was almost blasť, until late the Tuesday morning of October 31, when all schoolchildren were sent home from primary and secondary schools.
The Billboard had reported in its Tuesday, August 1, 1961 issue that the United States Weather Bureau had announced plans to carry out experiments on hurricanes with the seeding of silver iodide crystals, scattered from above the storms by airplanes, before November 15. But in mid-September, the Bureau said it would start the process immediately by seeding Hurricane Esther.
In British Honduras, after Hurricane Hattie had changed course so drastically to come and destroy us, the speculation afterwards was that there must have been silver iodide seeding by the Americans which reversed the stormís direction. Whatever the truth, the United States Consulate (no Embassy back then in colonial days) issued the sensational announcement after Hattieís devastation that any destitute Belizean who had a relative or relatives in the United States would be allowed to migrate to America. Thus began the mass exodus of black Belizeans which would lead to the great changes in the demographics and flavor of British Honduras/Belize.
On the aftermath of Hurricane Hattie, which paralized the Colony of British Honduras, the then First Minister, George Price issued a Command. - " LAW and ORDER, - AUSTERITY and HARD WORK TO BUILD BACK THE NATION.
Hurricane Hattie did more material damage, than any other force ever to British Honduras..- Belize City, Dangrga Town, Mullins River Village and other areas were devastated. - The economy came to an almost HALT. - The Two major Industries folded, Chicle and Logging
BUT, because of immediate Planning, and forceful action by the Government of that day and the people, a semblance of normalcy began to shape up quickly
Mr Price orders were to priorities the way forward. - The following were the measures taken at once.
1. Build Shelters for the people, Hattieville, George Town, Silk Grass. and the rehabilitation of all Hurricane Shelters to accommodate those in need of shelter. . ( There I was. )
2. Provide immediate food for the people. - Marketing Board was activated as the depot for distribution of food. - In the Districts, it was the Central Police Station. - I worked along with District Commissioner Ramon Ramirez in Cayo. - - We went to the Marketing Board in Belize City filled FIVE PWD Dump Trucks with Food and began to supply the people with food. - -
Wherever needed, some soup kitchens were established for the hungry.
3. We cleared and Cleaned the areas affected with the help of the British Soldiers stationed in Belize. - - WE began repairs to damaged roads, Bridges, buildings, Electricity and Water supplies etc.
4. We immediately Began drafting Immediate Plans for Reconstruction and Development. ( RECONDEV. I, one of the Directors along others.)
5. Negotiated with the Crown Agents for funds needed for the Reconstruction of all the damages.
6. Immediate Assistance, called subsidies, to FARMERS, in kind and cash for them to produce our daily local foods.
WITHIN SIX MONTHS, BELIZE WAS BEGINNING TO BREATHE FRESH AIR..- By 1964, we began the building of Belmopan and the OFFER OF DEVELOPMENT CONCESSIONS TO INDUSTRIES. etc. etc. etc.Hector Silva
Hurricane Hattie all I can remember I was 8 years old living on 85 Albert Street and there were 25 families that were pretty knitted close to each others loving and caring for each others in what ever we did . Before the hurricane hit it was announced on the radio and everyone began to prepare to evacuate to the nearest hurricane shelters our parents took us across the street to the Wesley School I thing it was the month of September . So we all packed into one of the class rooms and began to make space where everyone would be able to sleep because no one knew how long it was going to last. The volunteer guards were brought in to secure the buildings reassuring that everyone was safe. And when the building had reach itís capacity no other person were allowed to enter. It started to rain in the after noon and just continue with very heavy winds ever where dark and very fright everyone praying . It continue for quite a while and then a calm many people rush out and went out to foreshore only to see the sea completed dried up you could have walk for the foreshore across to the Baron bliss grave . But then after a while it suddenly began to rain again and the strong winds picking up again and we were still in the room locked what happened next can never be forgotten thousand of lives were gone drowned because they were not able to get to safety in time to safe their lives . I was told that the British soilders that was in charge began to recute the men to help them pick up the dead bodies and take them to the Rogers Stadium where a huge pit was being dug and the bodies thrown in there and buried those that I guess that was already decomposed were burnt outside . Even the Prime Minister I was made to understand was put to work picking up the dead bodies. The Bliss Institute is where the British Soilders were giving everyone vaccination against in fection . And James Brodieís was where the families were ration food supplies so everyone of the family would stand in line and received couple packages of goods . Since after the hurricane was over and whosoever home was not destroyed well they would allowed their friends and families to go there until they were able to rebuild their homes or move to some where else to live . Well our home had fallen down but not totally destroyed . So we stayed with our neighbors and all the grocers that all the families had collected we accumulated it together and was able to feed the five families that were together the children like myself we slept like 8 of us in one bed the adults slept on the flow but everyone was happy my dad began to build back our home with help of all the kids in the neighborhood each fling their share and yes we all did it together. What I considered a Miracle was while my dad was raising the house and placing the blocks under the bottom of the house the jack slip and the edge of the houses fell on my dad and all the kids came together because there were no other one around and although were small but together was able to lift up the side of the house and my dad was able to pull himself from under and luckly only suffered a few scratches this is why I know God lives and acts at the propriety time. Belizean lost so many of the their families and friends. But with the people coming together they were able to build back the city once again . Belizean knew what it was to respect and love each other and working together to rebuild back their city once again . It took some time but it was accomplished . The British Soilders played a very important part in controlling law and ordered when they mention that a certain hours everyone should be at home you bet everyone was home before that hour.
The surge of the hurricane came after the eye had pass because so many people came out of their houses thinking that the hurricane can gone but it suddenly return and no one had any choice of survival . With reference to the Prime Minister I was made to understand that under certain protocols in these times of emergency at hat time the British Army being here in the country then had the ultimate Authority to take over whatís had to be accomplish in order to get the country under law and order meanwhile they were able to clean up the city. So I can only imagine that The Prime Minister portfolio played no part and there fore was treated as any ordinary Belizean and this is why he was put to work as well . Itís just as when the election are being called The Governor Dr Calvin Young is them in charge of the Administration of the country until the New Prime Minister is them Sworn inJoseito Sosa
I remember Hurricane Hattie like it was yesterday. We lived at 113 Amara Avenue. Mom and Dad, Arden Forman, had three children and pregnant with one. Being the nosey child l was, l followed my dad from window to window. Being a fisherman he knew what it would take to balance our home with 32 persons in it. So he made groups and every so often had the groups move from one area to another. Water came up as high as our top stairs. Now how many stairs there was l canít remember. I do remember when the water was dissipating my dad left to go check on his boats. At that time he has two sailboats and one motor boat in the river tied at my cousins deck. He said as he was walking through Albert Street he saw people with the 25 lbs of sugar, rice, flour. Everything you need was available at all the large stores like Brodieís. Most if not all the large stores were giving away food. He came up to a guy that was struggling with three 25 lbs of rice. My dad said hey man let me help you with one of those 25 lb rice l have 32 people in my house to feed. The man said no. Dad took out his pen knife and pierced a hole in the rice bags and kept moving. I thought that was so funny because by the time the man got where he was going or felt the weight getting lighter it was about too late. Dad did though catch a 20 lb barracuda at the bottom of our stairs. Mom made boil up for everyone. I do remember though standing under my dad and seeing since flying off the houses. Then l saw a dinner table twirling down the avenue and a small dog on it and bam a zinc flew off and chopped off the dog head. I screamed. That was the end of me peeping. Dad also told us later on that a lot of people died during the eye of the storm. What happens then us the weather can start looking beautiful, winds died down and all of a sudden once the eye of the storm had passed then the hurricane comes sometimes with more force. Lots of people died as they left their place of security from the storm to go check on their homes or go out to foreshore to admire the beautiful weather not knowing we just half way through the storm. Dad had a few of the men that were trying to leave. My dad made it clear that if they left they could not return as he explained what was happening. During that period everywhere you turn was the Soldiers from the U.K. guarding because folks were breaking into peopleís home and stealing stuff. I pray whenever itís hurricane season that our Jewel Belize never experience what they went through with Hurricane Hattie. Belize would certainly be wooed off the map.Mary Forman
We know it is only a matter of time before it happens again. All we can do is prepare for it and learn from our experiences.. I think North side would do better because many of the houses are made of concrete, but in South side some of the house have been there since Hattie and ready to fall. It is these house that cause most of the destruction as they start breaking up during the storm. We can't do anything about the water. Just get out of the let it do what it will do. However, I suspect where you were in the city the tidal surge may have been different. For example, if you lived in the Buttonwood area that area may have experienced a different tidal surge.. It all depends on the direction the hurricane is coming in. Different directions will have different effects on tidal surge in the city because we are a pininsular. . I think we need to get a little more sufisticated when it comes to prediction of tidal surge because it does affect different parts of the city differently.. If we look at the tidal surge from Richard and Earl they were different. People living in Vista Del Mar didn't think they would get a tidal surge, but they got one with Earl, but none with Richard.. I guess when the big one coming the best thing to do is just make sure you are above 15 feet and you have access to 20 or 25 feet because a category five will bring 25 feet of water. So you need to know what is your elevation in the city. Parts of the city is high like by the Shell station on the boulevard is 9 feet above sea level I was told. We need to have elevation maps for the entire city so we know which area needs to have mandatory evacuations even if you have a two story house because depending where you live that might not be enough. What I would like to see are tidal surge warnings poles located at various parts of the city which will show the residence how high water will go in their area based on the category of the Hurricane. A category five will bring water that will submerge most two story houses in downtown and people need to see that.Regent Albert
The Usher building on Foreshore after Hurricane Hattie, 1961. That house burned down in 1998 when the corner house (abandoned) was lit on fire by homeless tenants. This picture is two houses down from where Victor Usher Jr. lives now.
The old ladies of St. Andrew's always lamented the loss of their lovely organ in Hurricane Hattie. I read they had an old pipe organ. One can be seen at St. John's Cathedral. I think the bell is at a church in Corozal. The story was a metal water vat, I think it was, got adrift and was hurled against the old Kirk by the force of the storm.
I was in Placencia as a kid watching the waves roll in from the beach to our house as high as the verandah, bring the entire top of coconut trees, and all kind of debris, some if the memories have faded, just those waves, that was early in the beginning of the storm, after that we were locked up, could not see out anymore. Sylvia Eiley