Hurricane Iris hits Belize, weakens

BELIZE CITY, Belize, Oct. 8 — Hurricane Iris slammed into Belize Monday night packing winds of 140 mph, but it lost strength quickly once it arrived, winds dropping to 80 mph by early Tuesday. The hurricane touched down about 80 miles south-southwest of Belize City in the small coastal towns of Independence and Placencia, where dozens of homes were destroyed, according to local radio reports.

THE HURRICANE, moving west at about 22 mph, was expected to weaken even more as it passed over mountainous areas of Belize and Guatemala, according to a bulletin from the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
In Placencia, a fishing village and resort town of small wooden homes on stilts, numerous houses were lost, said resident Andrea Villanueva.
“Our own roof went and most of the houses went down,” Villanueva told local LOVE-FM radio as the hurricane’s eye passed over. “But we’re experiencing a calm right now.”
In Independence, Iris ripped the roof off a high school that had been converted into a shelter.
“The roof is gone and the water is pouring down through the building,” said an unidentified man who called the station shortly before the phone line went dead. Howling winds could be heard in the background.
Belizean weather officials said they expected the hurricane to leave the country by early Tuesday.

North of the storm, intermittent heavy rains and winds blew through Belize City, a low-lying, seaside city of 65,000 people where soldiers went door to door to evacuate people from their homes.

While the evacuation was optional in Belize City, officials said it was mandatory for some coastal towns farther south and for offshore cayes popular with tourists.
“This is an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane,” said Richard Knabb, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. “This is going to cause extensive damage wherever it makes landfall.”

The Hurricane Center warned that Iris could temporarily raise the seas by 13 to 18 feet above normal, causing coastal flooding. Rainfall of from 5 to 8 inches could cause flash floods and mudslides inland.
Nearly every window in Placencia was boarded up by early Monday afternoon, and roads out of the area were clogged with traffic as the hurricane approached.
Juan Bendeck, Honduras’ emergency commissioner, said his country was on a state of alert.
Civil defense authorities in Guatemala and El Salvador implemented states of alert in anticipation of heavy rains from Iris.

Iris gained force after brushing past Jamaica on Sunday with 85-mph winds that toppled some trees, tore off roofs and injured at least one person.
Iris killed a mother and her two young daughters in the Dominican Republic on Saturday when a retaining wall collapsed onto their house.
Farther east in the Caribbean, Tropical Storm Jerry faded into a disorganized tropical depression midway between Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

[This message has been edited by Marty (edited 10-09-2001).]