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Re: Remembering: Hurricane Hattie 50 Years Ago [Re: Marty] #518747
11/05/16 05:40 AM
11/05/16 05:40 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 60,482
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Comments & Photos on Hurricane Hattie

I was in high school and my experience of that hurricane was horrible. Time and space are insufficient right now to fully describe the experience. But all I can say is that I never want to go through another one like Hurricane Hattie. Am certain that all of us who lived through it have a story. For those who perished may their soul continue to rest in peace and for us who survived we say thank God.

I went through that storm. Was 16 and the water destroyed almost everything. Houses,cars you see vats roll down the street. We survived.

Weathered Hurricane on the second floor of then Paslow building. remembered that scene well with the Swing Bridge dislocated from its moorings.

Our late Mayor David Fonseca once told me that he lived on Ovaltine for months after the storm. If I recall, the reported storm surge was 13 feet.

we was at CBA on the canal side near prince street it was terrible don't want to ever experience one like that.i was in Corozal for Janet it wasn't too bad like Hattie

I loss two brothers and two sisters in Hurricane Hattie . My parents had recently moved from Honduras . My Dad Norval Mejia , the only son of Caroline Neal of Mullins River had just returned home to his mom and family with his family to reside and barely a year after the terrible disaster occurred. God is so good in that he gave them back four children, and I am the first of that 2nd set . Two of my brothers were saved out of the six children . It is still sad to think of what my parents went through .

I was 5 yrs old living in gallonjug I remember that hurricane..

We were saved in the Paslow Building that is no longer there.

Of all the pictures of the hurricane that I have seen, the ones I think best tell the story of the hurricane (and good for analysis) are as follows:

1. A woman washing clothes in the midst of the devastation (the cover photo of the Mennonite John Friesen's book on the hurricane). This photo highlighted the resilience of the people of the city.

2. First Minister and Mayor of Belize City George Price conferring with Fred Westby at Foreshore. This photo highlighted the role local government played in the relief and recovery effort.

3. The orderly line for food rations outside of the marketing board on North Front Street. This photo again highlighted the role of local government in the relief and recovery effort. It also showed how a natural disaster such as the hurricane often become a social leveler in that rich and poor, the known and not so known were all in that line waiting for rations.

4. British soldiers fixed bayonets patrolling the streets of downtown Belize City. Their presence highlighted the fact that local government was unable to restore law and order in the city in the aftermath of the hurricane. However, local government was not criticized for the way in which they prepared for the hurricane and their response to the crisis. The presence of the British soldiers also served as a remainder of the colonial status of British Honduras.

5. The arrival of aid from abroad at Stanley field Airport. The Guatemalans were first to respond. The Mexicans also responded early, but regrettably one of their planes crashed in northern Belize, Then the Americans came by sea and air ahead of the British). Then the British came via Jamaica.

6. The burning of bodies at Lord Ridge Cemetery. It wasn't until I think 2005 that a plaque was placed at the mass grave where the victims of Hattie were buried.

There are many pictures of the devastation of Belize City, but regrettably few of the devastation of then Stann Creek Town, Mullins River (and other southern coastal villages), and Caye Caulker.

! I too was 8 years old [turned 9 that Dec], when Hattie devastated Belize. My family's home on Dickinson Street was washed out to sea along with homes of many of our neighbors in that area! I remember my Mom told me that when she went to see the area, that once she got to the old cemetery, that she was able to see clear out to the sea as many of the homes were destroyed! I will never forget!

I was in Jamaica, but my wife got saved at Technical building on Freetown Road - second floor. Her house on Kelly Street dropped flat on the ground.

I was 5 yrs old my mom took off her sweater and put it on me to stay warm mothers love . I remember the helicopters flying over head

I was 8 years old at the time and spent this hurricane upstairs of the Children's Library (Turton Building) on North Front Street.

Around Eyre Street

One newpaper's account of Hurricane Hattie

Entrance of Handyside Street. 960 Handy side St. where I grew up. This is by Queen St. That's the Cocom house at 37 Handyside Street. The water rose and covered the veranda but did not enter the house which was one step up from d veranda. Neighbors whose homes were destroyed sheltered there with the family.

That's the Swing Bridge, in Belize City, British Honduras, underwater during Hurricane Hattie. This picture was taken from Paslow. The force of the tidal surge turned the bridge, so we know that it was not a gradual tide, it came with a force. This picture must have been taken during eye because everything seem calm. It was this same tidal surge that broke a fuel tank from it moorings on the North side a little further up on the left of this picture that crashed into the Presbyterian Church (one of the churches made from bricks) and erased one of the two remaining we had. The only one remaining is St. John's Cathedral.

These photos of Hurricane Hattie tell a story of what Belize was and what Hattie did to change our Belizean scenery. Click photos for larger versions.

In this picture there is the massive destruction of the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall, - Belize City Market, - Shore Shore, and by bridge foot.

MORE AND MORE DAMAGES ON BELIZE CITY BY HATTIE - Hence the reason why the building of Belmopan which was already PLANNED from 1960, was accelerated.

Click on above four photos to see larger versions of them...

Last edited by Marty; 09/24/18 05:23 AM.
Re: Remembering: Hurricane Hattie 50 Years Ago [Re: Marty] #518755
11/05/16 04:54 PM
11/05/16 04:54 PM
Joined: Oct 2012
Posts: 459
Greenville, SC USA
larrypied Offline
larrypied  Offline
Great read. Sad story.

Re: Remembering: Hurricane Hattie 50 Years Ago [Re: Marty] #526741
10/31/17 06:20 AM
10/31/17 06:20 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 60,482
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

OCTOBER 30th OCTOBER 1961. at 4.20 .P.M.


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.

The current that hit town DUG OUT the Old Slaughter House area and created the Belize Beach.

( 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. )

The floods of 1961 as seen by the Hawkesworth Bridge - as it began to raise.

Oct 31, 1961 Hurricane Hattie in Belize City, before the water receded.

Rare old footage of Hurricane Hattie after destroying Belize.

Lots of people went unaccounted. BTL, BWSL & people digging foundation's drains regularly reported finding skeletal remains of humans.

Hurricane at Halloween

Just as the residents of British Honduras1 were starting to breathe a sigh of relief because the 1961 hurricane season would soon be ending, a powerful Category 5 hurricane named Hattie hit Central America on Halloween.  The Atlantic hurricane season in 1961 officially began on June 15 and ended on October 31.2

Unlike the hurricane which devastated British Honduras in September of 1931 and killed over 2000 persons, eleven years previous to Hattie, Atlantic tropical cyclones began to be given names; and three years later in 1953 were first given female names.  Janet was therefore the first “female” to hit the country in 1955 when it made landfall in the north.   Hattie’s appearance in 1961 was the second female-named hurricane to make landfall in the country; and packing winds in excess of 150 miles per hour was unprecedented until Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

The year 1961 saw various firsts both internationally and nationally.  The United States saw its youngest President, John F. Kennedy, being inaugurated; and the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man to orbit the earth.  Significantly the first ever weather satellite, Tiros 1, which would eventually help forecasters to track and interpret hurricanes, was launched in 1961. In British Honduras the first woman, Gwendolyn Lizarraga, ever to contest a national election, won a seat in the Legislative Assembly; and the Battle of St. George’s Caye was branded as a myth by certain sectors.  Considered mild in terms of landfalling hurricanes, that was the “climate” which heralded the 1961 season.

Comparatively speaking, Belize has traditionally been rarely hit by hurricanes due to its geographic location.  This is borne out by the thirty-year interval between the violent storms of 1931 and 1961.  Although the 1961 season did not see a hurricane forming until July 20, and with no storms at all during August, the activity started in September when in that month and the following months there would be ten storms, eight hurricanes and seven major hurricanes.

Hattie was a rare powerful late-season hurricane which formed in that fertile area of the Southwestern Caribbean where sea surface temperatures are warm and where upper level westerly winds that take shape in the Gulf of Mexico do not penetrate that far south.  Hattie was first classified as a tropical system on October 27, and actually developed so quickly that it immediately became a tropical storm.  By midnight it had reached hurricane intensity,3 continuing northward through the western Caribbean and grew stronger on October 28 and 29, posing serious threats to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and western Cuba.

However, on October 29 a ridge to the north turned Hattie toward the northwest, sparing the Greater Antilles but then threatening Central America.  Hattie moved into the Gulf of Honduras on October 30 as a Category 4 storm with winds of 132 mph. Curving then toward the west-southwest, Hattie had attained winds of 160 mph and was located about 190 miles east of the border of Mexico and British Honduras.  Hattie at that stage had reached the equivalence of a Category 5 hurricane4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, and attained the record of being the strongest measured hurricane in the northwest Caribbean up to that time, until Hurricane Mitch took that honor in 1998.

Tracking on a direct path to British Honduras, Hattie hit the coast from midnight to 3 a.m. on Halloween, which was a Tuesday on October 31, 1961.  With recorded winds of 160 mph and gusts of up to 200 mph, the storm surge reached 13-15 feet above tide level.  Taking the first brunt of the storm were the Turneffe Islands, Caye Caulker and San Pedro Ambergris Caye, followed by Belize City and the Stann Creek District.

Because officials at the Miami Weather Bureau had warned of the threat for high tides, high winds and heavy rainfall, residents in the capital Belize City, Stann Creek District and low-lying areas had been evacuated or moved to shelters.  In the aftermath it was found that most of Belize City and Stann Creek was destroyed or severely damaged. Crop damage, including citrus which was estimated at $2 million, was inflicted on cacao, bananas, as well as losses to timber. It was estimated that the $60 million in property losses caused by Hattie in 1961, which accounted for about 75% of houses and business places, would translate to $370 million today. Fatalities numbered 262 with more than 100 in Belize City, and the comparatively low number in relation to 1931 was attributed to advance warning.

On its way to British Honduras, Hurricane Hattie had passed over San Andres Island off the east coast of Nicaragua resulting in one death and 15 injuries.  Other countries in Central America were affected by flash floods which caused 11 deaths in Guatemala and one in Honduras.

After the storm had passed there were thousands of survivors roaming the streets looking for food, clothing and shelter. Looting and pillaging incited some measure of violence in Belize City which caused a British frigate to land troops to assist the police.

From formation to dissipation, Hattie lived for six days, being one of the shortest lasting storms on record.  However, to those who lived through it and experienced the hardships and grief it engendered for many years, it lasted a lifetime.  Hattie lost much of its power by the afternoon of October 31, and was downgraded to a tropical storm while over Guatemala.  Continuing westward it crossed Central America, and on November 1 emerged in the western Pacific Ocean in the Gulf of Tehautepec.  It spent half a day as a tropical depression in the Gulf before regaining sufficient strength to be renamed Tropical Storm Simone by the San Francisco Weather Bureau.

Moving westward on November 2, Simone then made a turn to the north passing over Saline Cruz, Mexico.

Seemingly having a mind of its own, and again downgraded to a tropical depression it headed back toward the Gulf of Mexico over mountainous terrain which caused its winds to drop to 30 mph.  Finding warm waters in the Bay of Campeche, on November 3 Simone, then only a depression, began to reorganize.  By the following day the new storm reached tropical strength and was named Inga, which became the last Atlantic storm of the 1961 season.  Inga struggled to reach hurricane strength as it moved northward then southward off the Mexican coast in its last few days, but only able to garner 70 mph winds the killer that had been Hattie died for good on the morning of November 8.  Pundits contend that Hattie-Simone-Inga was one storm that moved from Atlantic to Pacific and back to the Atlantic.

In keeping with the policy that the names of killer hurricanes be removed from the rotating list, the name Hattie was retired after 1961 and will never be used for an Atlantic Hurricane again.  The name was replaced by Holly in 1965.

The damage that Hattie had wrought on Belize City was so severe that the government opted to build a new capital city located 50 miles inland on high ground and safe from tidal waves; and on its completion in 1970 the seat of government was moved to Belmopan. In 2011 the population of Belmopan is some 20,000, but Belize City still remains the country’s center of population with 75,000 people.

Two other communities were established as refugee camps after Hurricane Hattie caused many persons to be homeless. Hattieville, with a present population of about 1,300, is located 17 miles from Belize City on the Western Highway; while Georgetown is located off the Southern Highway in the Stann Creek District accommodating those persons who were displaced along the coast after 1961. The mass migrations to North America of Belizeans that occurred in the 1960s following Hattie are often cited as being caused by the hurricane.

Those persons who “weathered” Hattie will after half a century forever retain memories of that hurricane at Halloween in 1961.  Today hurricane forecasting and tracking has greatly improved, and Belize can boast a National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) comprising efficient persons from the public and private sectors.  Although vigilance will always be uppermost in the minds of Belizeans during the Atlantic Hurricane season, fears will be alleviated in the assurance that a well-equipped meteorological and emergency organization machinery are in place.
(Dated 2011)

1 The name of the country was changed from British Honduras to Belize by approval of the National Assembly on
June 1, 1973.  This was seen as the conferring of dignity on the people by having their own name and identity as Belizeans.
2 June 1 has been the traditional start of the Atlantic hurricane season for decades.  However, the end date has been slowly shifted outward, from October 31 to November 15 until its current date of November 30.
3 A storm with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph is classed as a hurricane.
4 A Category 5 hurricane carries winds that surpass 156 mph.


Re: Remembering: Hurricane Hattie 50 Years Ago [Re: Marty] #526744
10/31/17 06:31 AM
10/31/17 06:31 AM
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 6,029
San Pedro AC Belize
Diane Campbell Offline
Diane Campbell  Offline
So many have frightening tales of this mammoth storm. So grateful that we have satellites today to give us a slightly better chance of taking proper measures and finding shelter. Still, weather can do the unthinkable ........ River running upstream?!! Yikes. That is a long uphill run.

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