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#492190 - 06/12/14 12:53 PM 1931 Hurricane Belize (British Honduras)  
Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline
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10th of September, 1931

The 1931 Belize hurricane was a devastating Category 4 tropical cyclone that struck British Honduras on 10 September 1931, killing an estimated 2,500 people. Although weaker than Hurricane Hattie of 1961, it remains the deadliest hurricane and natural disaster in British Honduras history. The hurricane was first detected as a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa on 29 August. Moving westward, the disturbance remained relatively weak till 6 September, when it was first classified as a tropical cyclone just west of the Windward Islands. The depression gradually intensified, reaching tropical storm intensity within the first six hours following tropical cyclogenesis. The cyclone intensified further to hurricane intensity by 8 September. Strengthening and organization remained gradual until the storm reached the Gulf of Honduras, by which time it began to rapidly intensify. The tropical cyclone quickly attained Category 4 hurricane intensity. The hurricane subsequently made landfall on Belize City on 10 September with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph (215 km/h) and a minimum barometric pressure of 952 mbar (hPa; 28.12 inHg). Moving across the Yucatán Peninsula, the tropical cyclone weakened, and continued to weaken when it moved across the Bay of Campeche. This track brought it to a second landfall north of Tampico, Mexico as a tropical storm on 13 September. Once inland, the storm quickly weakened, and dissipated later that day.

The hurricane began as a tropical wave—a westbound low-pressure area—first observed southeast of Cape Verde on 29 August.[1] Traversing the tropical Atlantic, the wave retained a minimum barometric pressure of about 1010 mbar (hPa; 29.83 inHg) and strengthened briefly the following day.[2][3] By 1 September, however, the wave had become rather weak and indiscernible; it would remain as such for much of its early existence till 6 September, by which time it had moved past the Windward Islands. In this region the system became sufficiently organised to be classified as a tropical depression at 1800 UTC that same day, about north-north-west of Grenada.[4][5] Some six hours after its inception the depression strengthened to a tropical storm over the eastern Caribbean Sea. Owing to a lack of ship observations, data on the storm were scarce in that region. The first ship to identify the storm clearly was the tanker Geo H. Jones, which recorded strong winds in conjunction with rapidly decreasing barometric pressures late on 7 September.[4] As the storm remained north-north-westbound across the Caribbean,[5] more ships were able to record data on the cyclone.[2]

At 1800 UTC on September 8, the tropical storm attained hurricane intensity. Intensification remained gradual until the hurricane moved into the Gulf of Honduras by September 10, when the hurricane began to rapidly intensify. At 0000 UTC on September 10, the cyclone intensified into a Category 2 hurricane. The storm strengthened further before reaching its peak intensity with as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph (215 km/h) at 1800 UTC.[5] The strong hurricane made landfall on Belize City at the same intensity two hours later. A barometer in the city recorded a minimum pressure of 952 mbar (hPa; 28.12 mbar); this was the lowest barometric pressure measured in association with the storm.[2] The hurricane substantially weakened over the Yucatán Peninsula, and had weakened to tropical storm strength by the time it had entered the Bay of Campeche. Despite moving back over water, the tropical cyclone continued to weaken in the bay,[5] and made its final landfall roughly 60–70 mi (95–110 km) north of Tampico, Mexico with winds of 40 mph (65 km/h) at around 0000 UTC on September 13.[2] Over the mountainous terrain of Mexico, the storm quickly weakened, and dissipated later on September 13.[5]

Preparations, impact, and aftermath

Convent in Belize City after the hurricane

September 10, the day of the hurricane, is also a national holiday for British Honduras, on which many locals gather in the streets to celebrate the defeat of Spanish conquerors by the British in 1798.[6] It is widely believed that the hurricane struck without any warning, although some recent historians have disputed this. In his column for The Belize Times on September 5, 2004, Emory King claimed that Belizean authorities withheld continuous warnings from U.S. ships in the region of a possible hurricane strike on British Honduras so the festivities would not be interrupted.[7] King cited as evidence a letter dated September 24, 1931, from a local radio operator to the Colonial Secretary in which the warnings were discussed, adding that "perhaps none of [the authorities] had ever been in a hurricane and didn't know exactly how bad it was going to be."[8]

  • Government radio facilities in Belize City were cut out during the storm.[9]
  • In Tela, Honduras, the hurricane's effects destroyed the city, killing 150 people and rendering many others homeless.[9]
  • Several American priests in Belize City were killed during the storm.[10]


#495566 - 09/10/14 06:19 AM Re: 1931 Hurricane Belize (British Honduras) [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 56,669
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

In Channel 5 News interview with then reporter Anne-Marie Williams, Emory King claimed that to have debunked the myth that the hurricane came without any warning and that the British governor was more focused on celebrating the battle of St. George's Caye (he cited newspaperman Ernest Cain , who also wrote a book about Hurricane Hattie). In a June 20 1999 edition of the Amandala, one Lilian Jones Crawford also gave account of the hurricane and the 10th parade being cancelled.

What we can say about the role of the 10th parade in this natural event becoming a natural disaster is that the story of the colonial authorities withholding warnings - so the festivities would not be interrupted is part - became part of the political battle fought over the Battle of St. George's Caye starting with the emergence of the nationalist movement in the 1950s.

The other fact concerning the 1931 hurricane involves the number of casualties. While it was the natural disaster with the highest death toll in British Honduras/Belize's history, I think this death toll requires some scrutiny. (The category 4 hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900 killed around 8,000 individuals). The number of deaths were reported to be between 2,000 to 2,500, but I thing some might have been double counted.

Cain, Ernest E. 1933. Cyclone! Being an Illustrated Official Record of the Hurricane and Tidal Wave which Destroyed the City of Belize (British Honduras) on the colony's birthday, 10th September 1931.Ilfracombe, UK: Arthur H. Stockwell, Ltd.

1931 Hurricane myth disputed

What do you know about the 1931 Hurricane? Probably not much except that it came without warning and caused massive destruction. Well if you’re one of those persons, what you’re about to see and hear might just shock you.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting

For almost seven decades we’ve heard from our ancestors and teachers that the 1931 Hurricane, which claimed over two thousand lives and ravaged Belize Town without warning. That tale, however, is being challenged by The Belize Historical Society. The organisation under the presidency of Emory King has published an archival piece entitled “The Hurricane of 1931″ which debunks that myth.

Emory King, President, Belize Historical Society

“Well, it’s absolutely incredible that the people who were in charge of the safety of the people of this country would have ignored continuous warnings for three days that a hurricane was coming. That the storm was coming, that ships were fleeing from the Caribbean and to ports and to just say… Well I don’t know what they said, but the result was that the authorities, the governor, the Colonial Secretary and the members of the executive council decided that they wouldn’t tell anybody about the hurricane, just go on with the parade for the Tenth of September and the school children’s’ outing and the friendly society march. The result was that two thousand people got killed.”

The two thousand people killed in the hurricane, property damage, along with the numerous warnings that the then Colonial Secretary Pillings ignored, were stated in a letter that Donald N. A. Fairweather, radio operator at the time, wrote to Pillings on September twenty-fourth, 1931.

King found the letter in the archives and decided to make it public knowledge two weeks before Hurricane Keith.

Emory King

“I found it in a book called “Cyclone” by Ernest E. Cain. Mr. Cain was the editor of the Belize Independent Newspaper and he was also an author along with Monrad Metskin. They published the handbook of British Honduras in 1925 and he had published his newspaper for many years prior to that. He was very, very, touched by the disaster and the loss of life by the hurricane and wrote this book. He compiled as much information about the hurricane and called the book “Cyclone.” He also has that official report from Fairweather to the Colonial Secretary two weeks after the storm was over documenting; virtually day by day, hour by hour, the report that they were getting from Washington and New Orleans from ships at sea warning that the storm was coming and will probably hit British Honduras and possibly Belize Town on Thursday the tenth of September.”

The article states that the first report of the storm was received on Tuesday morning, September eighth. It was reported as a tropical disturbance of moderate intensity, one hundred and fifty miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, moving west northwestward over the Caribbean Sea. When the ominous message came that three hurricanes would move across British Honduras near Belize early in the afternoon of September tenth, Fairweather had already posted several notices at the foot of the swing bridge. However, during a time of celebration and merrymaking, who would have time to pay attention to notices at the bridge? And what would be the motive for the authorities not to inform the masses of an impending hurricane?

Emory King

“Perhaps none of them had ever been in a hurricane and didn’t know exactly how bad it was going to be, couldn’t conceive of the destruction of this town and some of the out-lying cayes like St. George’s Caye. A number of very prominent families were utterly destroyed on St. George’s Caye and here in the city, two thousand people. Some entire sections of town like Queen Charlotte Town, wiped out almost to the last person, very, very few survivors. St. John’s College went down; Wesley College went down, Wesley Church, St. Mary’s Church on and on. It was a major disaster.”

It’s hoped that the article will help to clear the air about the age-old myth that the 1931 hurricane came without any warning.

Emory King

“For the past fifty years or more everybody said that the hurricane hit without any warning. We didn’t know it was coming. It mashed up the city and killed all those people because they didn’t name storms in those days. We didn’t have radar and there was no communication. I spoke to several professors of history here in the city who said “Oh yes, that’s right here was no warning.” Absolutely not. I spoke to politicians and civil servants “No, no. We didn’t have warning, we didn’t know.” Now these people were not alive at the time so they are only saying what people told them. What they hear from their parents and school teachers.”

And what they heard is simply not so! At least from the piece of history D.N.A. Fairweather documented. Ann-Marie Williams for News Five.

We’d just like to remind you that we’re still in the hurricane season; it doesn’t end until November thirtieth


Hi – I came across this article after visiting the Belize museum last week during my latest visit back home to Belize. I now live in the States and have lived here since leaving Belize (British Honduras) back in ’73. I was born in Belize City (Haylock Family – related to Alfred Haylock).

I find the article very interesting because my Grandmother sat us down every year(sometimes three to four times a year) and told us the story of the 1931 and 1961 Hurricane (I was 1.5 months old and survived the 1961 hurricane (we lived on Far West Street).

As far as warning – she told us that everyone was going to march that day and the parade was on. If there were any warnings, no one got the message or just did not pay attention, which may support mr. King’s view. I can remember 10th of September parade day when I was growing up and can tell you that all we cared about was the parade and partying, thus I can imagine folks back then just ignoring another “Front” that was coming in and more focused on the parade. Now I do remember my Grandmother telling me this fact. After the first storm came, the tide was low and exposed a lot stuff for folks to go and pick up and inspect out of curiosity. Unknown to them, this was a sign that a tidal wave was coming and the end result was the deaths of hundreds…lots of kids…very sad.


I wa\s very interested in this article and in Steve’s post. My father Wallace Burns came to the UK as a 19 year old in 1941. He had brothers called Ernest and Arthur. – I never met my grandparents but remember writing to them in the 1950/60s. I think their last address was corner of Dean Street and Amara Avenue, earlier addresses included King Street and Far West Street.
My dad told me he was on the beach the day of the tidal wave. He was 9 years old and described it as; “the sea disappeared and the fish flapped on the dry sea floor, and when the wave came back it was so big it licked the sky”. He took refuge in the church. He described how they couldn’t cope with the dead and resorted to pouring petrol over the bodies and burning them in the street. The heat from the flames made one body rise on its feet and skim across the water towards him. That must have been terrifying for a 9 year old. Unfortunately I’ve lost touch with the family, but would welcome any information.

Oct 31, 2000, Channel 5 News

Sunday, June 20, 1999
--- by Lilian Jones Crawford

I was 11 years old, but I can still remember as if it were yesterday, when the hurricane hit Belize on the 10th of September, 1931. I attended St. Mary's School. Around August everybody was in glee, especially the children, happy that the 10th was coming, when we would all march through the streets with our red, white and blue flags, straw hats, white uniforms, and white tennis.

I have to mention some of the teachers. I suppose some of them are still alive, but aged. I remember Miss Hilda Foreman, Miss Louise Longsworth, Miss Adela Bradley, and the headmaster, Mr. George Griffith. He was very strict and stern.

Now let me tell you about the 1931 hurricane. People were waiting to see, and the rumour started in August that a hurricane would come to Belize. Most of the population had never witnessed one.

The 9th night was a clear, starry night. In those days, the fireworks used to be up at the Fort, and people gathered at the Courthouse Wharf and along Foreshore to watch and enjoy the beautiful fireworks. There was no sign of rain until about 6 o'clock the Tenth morning when a light, drizzling rain began. Even though it was raining, people were still getting ready to parade. The parade route was up Albert Street, turning around Government House down Regent, crossing over Swing Bridge, up Queen Street, turning up Barracks Road, right on to the Tamarind Tree, which is now Lindbergh Landing.

All the children went to their various schools. The rains never came as one big shower. It would rain and stop, rain and stop. The bands were right there, al1 of us children ready to march, and then sadness and disappointment came. All the happiness turned to sadness when the headmaster, Mr. Griffith, got on the stage and said there would be no marching.

Everyone was to go home (that was around 9:30am the morning), because a hurricane would be hitting Belize in a half an hour time.

It did come. The storm, which lasted about an hour and a half, left some houses roofless and blew down some fences and trees. St. John's College was situated by the seaside up at Loyola Park over Yarborough Bridge. The building was a large, three storey, wooden structure, and went down in the first storm, as also did St. Andrew's Hall, which was situated corner of Prince and Albert Streets.

After the storm passed, people came out to view the wreckage. Then something strange and unusual happened. The storm swung right back, but with more force, bringing a tidal wave about 10 feet high, which swept over the city of Belize, leaving 2,000 dead and thousands more homeless. The most devastated area was the Yarborough area.

If it was not for the water, many people would have survived. Most people who died were trapped under houses and died from drowning, including 11 Catholic priests.

The 11th morning dawned with people looking for their children, some for their parents. All you could see was debris, dead people, houses on the street, everything in one. A lady that I knew, Mrs. Harmon, lost her husband and 5 children. Only she survived. How sad!

I was living with my parents on West Street, but the storm caught us over the Pound Yard Bridge. We were trapped downstairs of a two storey house. It took us three hours from Pound Yard to West Street. We had to walk over houses, climb over trees, over boats, even dead people.

Finally they started to dig mass graves to bury the dead, right in front of Pound Yard where the gas station is today.

After that, people started to pick up the pieces and put them together by the grace of God, and the rest is history.

{Ed. NOTE: Mrs. Lillian Jones Crawford lives in Orange Walk Town. She is the mother of famous Orange Walk footballer, Elvis "Cricket" Crawford.)

Sept. 10th, 1931

It was in the morning during the annual celebration of the Battle of St. George's Caye, parade that the Hurricane came ashore and destroyed Belize City.

It was due to the belief amongst the City residents that the barrier reef would take the sting out of any approaching tidal wave, and it was the casualness which was responsible for the high death toll of almost 1000 of the the City's 15,000 population who died in the hurricane.

A view from Battlefield Park (downtown Belize) after the 1931 hurricane.

The Hurricane of 1931 was one of the first in modern times and the worst in our history. Destruction and more than two thousand lives were lost.

1888 Feb. 2nd: Foundation stone St Mary's Church laid.
1890 March 18th: St. Mary's Church (New) consecrated by Bishop Donet of Jamaica

1931 Sept. 10th, St. Mary Church, destroyed in the Hurricane.

1830 the first Wesleyan Chapel (wooden) erected. 1865 Wesleyan Chapel destroyed by fire.
1866 Dec. 23rd. New Wesleyan Church , Belize, opened for public worship. Sermon by Revd. Edward P. Webb.
Mr. & Mrs. John Leslie, celebrated what was believed to be Belize's oldest wedding anniversary, in Nov. 1977.
The couple were married at Wesleyan Church in 1907.

Wesleyan Church, on Albert Street, said to be the most beautiful building in Belize, did not survive. Many persons were trapped inside and were drowned by rising water.

St. John's College, Layola Park: On July the 16th, 1917 the classes were removed from the premises near the Most Holy Redeemer Cathedral to this new building erected at Loyola Park.

St. John Berchman College, in its Heyday. The finest in Central America, heading confidently to University Status.

St. John's College, totally destroyed by the 1931 Hurricane which took the lives of many Priests and Scholastics.

St. John's College

A view from Yabra, with St. John Cathedral at a distant on the top left side, after the 1931 hurricane


View of roofless Holy Redeemer Cathedral on the left on North Front Street showing Hyde's Lane intersection.

Mercy Convent, after the 1931 hurricane.

Mercy Convent, still in the same location then as now, was so badly mauled, it had to be rebuilt.

Looking South from the Courthouse

#516272 - 07/28/16 05:45 AM Re: 1931 Hurricane Belize (British Honduras) [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 56,669
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Deadliest Hurricane to Hit Belize

As many as 2,500 lives lost in Belize City. Take a look at this feature story created using a Geo App. Good information, lots of good photographs.

"The storm, which lasted about an hour and a half, left some houses roofless and blew down some fences and trees. St. John's College was situated by the seaside up at Loyola Park over Yarborough Bridge. The building was a large, three storey, wooden structure, and went down in the first storm, as also did St. Andrew's Hall, which was situated corner of Prince and Albert Streets.

After the storm passed, people came out to view the wreckage. Then something strange and unusual happened. The storm swung right back, but with more force, bringing a tidal wave about 10 feet high, which swept over the city of Belize, leaving 2,000 dead and thousands more homeless. The most devastated area was the Yarborough area. "

The 1931 hurricane also coincided with The Great Depression, setting the residents of Belize City back decades as they struggled to rebuild their lives. The era was marked by an intense struggle to uplift the working class and unemployment.

Click here for the whole report, and lots of historical photos.

#516277 - 07/28/16 06:18 AM Re: 1931 Hurricane Belize (British Honduras) [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 5,906
Diane Campbell Offline
Diane Campbell  Offline
This hurricane hit on 10 September, which is statistically also the peak of Atlantic hurricane season.

#516310 - 07/30/16 05:41 AM Re: 1931 Hurricane Belize (British Honduras) [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 12,105
elbert Offline
elbert  Offline
It's the 15th but hea what's a few days? It's a great time to pull the boats and go on vacation for folks who live on the islands.

The Dive Shops Daily Blog
#516312 - 07/30/16 05:42 AM Re: 1931 Hurricane Belize (British Honduras) [Re: elbert]  
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 5,906
Diane Campbell Offline
Diane Campbell  Offline
Originally Posted by elbert
It's the 15th but hea what's a few days? It's a great time to pull the boats and go on vacation for folks who live on the islands.

My bad. And my birthday!

#525740 - 09/09/17 06:49 AM Re: 1931 Hurricane Belize (British Honduras) [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 56,669
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Today, we give you an excerpt from the book Cyclone written by Ernest E. Cain. It documents the arrival of the catastrophic Category 4 hurricane which devastated Belize on 10th September, 1931, normally a day of fanfare and merriment. We urge everyone to keep in mind how truly blessed we are as we approach our Tenth of September Celebrations. Have a fun and save weekend whether you spend it inside hiding from the hot sun or patiently waiting for the Carnival to arrive at your viewing spot. Have a beautiful and blessed Tenth everyone! Happy Battle of St. George's Caye Day!

Destruction of the convent at St. Catherine Academy

#525782 - 09/12/17 05:38 AM Re: 1931 Hurricane Belize (British Honduras) [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 56,669
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Amateur home movie of British Honduras after Hurricane of 1931
After effects of Hurricane. Damage after. British colonial car loaded onto ferry. Railway. Belize City devastated. Choppy waves at sea from boat. Wind bending palm trees. Empty small boat bobbing. Ships launch. Still pictures of devastation and panoramic sweeps. Ships on dry land. Many vultures in trees. Ruined church. Houses upside-down. Belize guard of honour. Flag. Manual workers pulling ferry across river on ropes with chauffeur. Pith helmets of British civil servants. Narrow gauge railway - open and passengers sit sideways on four seater motor driven car on tracks.. Bridge. Natives. Pig.

Getting a glimse of Belize City in the 1930's using the Huntley's Film Archives. At around 8:26 you will see the ferry that was used before the Haluover Bridge was built. The area and the bridge was called Haulover because that is where the logs were hauled over after floating down the river. Driving over the Haulover Bridge going North on the right hand side on the banks of the river, one will notice a slab of concrete. I always wondered what that was used for. According to the film ( at 8:26), that was where the ferry docked as it came across the river.

Other interesting shots in the film is the Government House with some of the other buildings that were on the property before the 1931 hurricane. Loyola Park before and after the same hurricane.

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