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Remembering Hurricane Greta, 1978 #548082
02/10/21 07:17 AM
02/10/21 07:17 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 71,941
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP
by Albert Avila

As a kid, I grew up near the Haulover Creek next to where the Belchina bridge is located. There were many things I saw in the creek while living along that creek. One of the beautiful things from our vantage point was how the rivter changed throughout the year. Lots of people don’t get to see that. Some months it would be black, dead, and ugly and other months it would come alive and look emerald green and beautiful. One of the things I remember seeing was the body of a dead man floating in the river among my uncles' fishing boats. Since my bedroom faced the creek, one of the first things I did in the morning was to look through my window at the creek. One morning there it was. Apparently, it was a man that suffered from epilepsy and had fallen in the river and drown. That was the story I heard.

We don’t hear much about hurricane Fifi and Greta and I believe that is because they did not cause much damage in Belize. I guess if Belize City was not damaged, we tend to forget about it. Who remembers the other hurricane that struct Belize in 1961? Greta lambasted Dangriga. Somehow it looks as though if hurricanes don’t hit Belize City, they tend to hit Dangriga and then we forget about them.

Living by the creek was sort of exciting for me as a young boy as the City prepared for an approaching storm. I can recall the commotion with Fifi in 1974 a little but was old enough to remember Gretta more vividly in 1978. I was twelve at the time. One of the things I found exciting when a hurricane was approaching Belize was looking at all of the boats coming into the creek to take refuge from the hurricane. All kinds of boats came in, large ones and small ones. It was like a parade for boats.

In 1978, my uncle was employed at Barclays Bank. The plan was for our family was to take refuge in Barclays Bank. Down below in this post (ABOUT GRETA), you will read about a tornado that hit Belize City just before Gretta arrived. Well, I saw that tornado first hand. Here is my experience. It all happened when we were about to leave our house to go to Barclays. Our front door faced the north, so when you came out of our front door you would see the northside approach to the Belchina Bridge. At that time, Belchina Bridge was not there yet only an empty lot with an old dilapidated house and then Dr. Gordillo’s house at the end bordering North Front Street. The property after the empty lot going north was a sawmill/lumberyard facility. I think it may have been owned by the Loskot family. I would estimate the lumberyard was about seventy feet away from our house. As we opened our door to leave our house, about two seconds later, we saw the structures in the lumberyard went up about a hundred feet into the air and broke into a million pieces. We could not move as we all looked at this incident unfolding in front of our eyes. It lasted only for a few seconds. After a few seconds, all that went up fell back down to the ground and the sky immediately above the lumberyard was black the way it looked when a thunderstorm is approaching. As quickly as it had started it was over. I have always seen in the movies when tornadoes approaching, the winds would gradually pick-up, and then reduce as the tornado moves away. In our experience, there was no wind before or after. It just happened suddenly and disappeared as suddenly as it appeared. Before the tornado incident, we were sort of casual as we were preparing to leave our house. I think we were debating whether we should leave or not. After the incident, I would describe it as ‘weh foot mek fah’. We got out of our house really fast after that. We didn’t need much encouragement after that. Later, after Greta had passed, we learnt that it was a tornado that struck the city and destroyed four houses north of Douglas Jones along North Front Street including turning over a dump truck.

While at Barclays Bank, I don’t recall anything much about Gretta. I believe it hit Belize with about 50 to 60 miles an hour winds, but in Barclays, you did not hear anything. I only saw the trees in Battlefield Park shaking in the wind and I could see the roof of Hofius moving slightly up and down in the wind. I remember my mother who had lived through Hattie saying that the water will soon come. I never saw any of the water. By the time we existed Barclay’s Bank the next day, the water had already receded. However, I knew there was water because when we returned home, the watermark on the house was about four feet high. Our backyard was filled with mud about three inches thick and there were lots of eel looking things about twelve to sixteen inches long in the mud. I had never seen those creatures in all my life living next to the creek and I never saw them again after Greta.

[Linked Image]


Hurricane Greta, later Hurricane Olivia, was one of ten named Atlantic hurricanes to cross over Central America into the eastern Pacific while remaining a tropical cyclone. The seventh named storm of the 1978 Atlantic hurricane season, Greta formed from a tropical wave just northwest of Trinidad on September 13, and despite being in a climatologically unfavorable area, gradually intensified while moving west-northwestward. On September 16, it became a hurricane south of Jamaica. Two days later, the well-defined eye approached northeastern Honduras but veered to the northwest. After reaching peak winds of 130 mph (215 km/h) that day, Greta weakened while paralleling the northern Honduras coast just offshore. On September 19, it made landfall on Belize near Dangriga

At Greta's final landfall in Belize, the highest sustained winds were 55 mph (89 km/h) in Belize City, with gusts to 115 mph (185 km/h) at Dangriga near the landfall location. On the offshore Ambergris Caye, winds reached 60 mph (97 km/h), and there was heavy rainfall. On Half Moon Caye, the hurricane damaged the base of a lighthouse and knocked over several coconut trees.[23] Along the Belize Barrier Reef, the hurricane downed palm trees and produced high waves, with significant wave heights of about 33 ft (10 m) along Carrie Bow Caye. On the mainland, storm tides in Dangriga were 6 to 7 ft (1.8 to 2.1 m) above normal, which did not cause much flooding. The strong winds destroyed 50 houses there and unroofed a further 75, including damage to the hospital. There were also disruptions to power and water service. About 90% of the grapefruit crop was destroyed, and 50% of the orange crop was lost. Tides were 2 to 4 ft (0.61 to 1.22 m) above normal in Belize City,[9] which caused flooding in conjunction with swollen rivers. The United States embassy was flooded with about one foot of mud. There was little damage in the city, although a tornado in Belize City that damaged four houses and flipped over a truck. During the storm, the Belize International Airport was closed. Farther inland, strong winds caused heavy damage at Guanacaste National Park. Damage throughout Belize was estimated at $25 million (1978 USD), and there were four deaths. Three of the deaths were on offshore islands in areas without radios, and the other was due to electrocution.

Source: Hurricane information from Wikipedia

Here's a photo of Liberty Hall and surrounding area after Hurricane Greta in 1978.

[Linked Image]

Alan Jackson
I spent the night at Airport Camp and drove back to the city just after daybreak. I remember seeing some damaged houses/buildings along Haulover Creek just as you described, Albert. I was boarding with a family on Euphrates Avenue and the lower floor of their house had an inch or two of mud after a foot of water receded. The city reeked of fetid mud for many days. The below photo shows the storm warning flag above the Courthouse Sunday morning before Greta.

[Linked Image]

Thomas Tate
I was 10 years old when Greta hit Belize. I remember my family took shelter at one of officer's quarters at the Lynam prison. My dad worked at Recondev at the time and he was responsible for the housing rehabilitation program in the Stann Creek District including Gales Point.

Colin Gillett
When Hurricane Greta hit Belize City my mom and my two sisters were in shelter at the church corner Mex Ave and Fairweather St. We were living across from Bismark Club in Yabra next to the parking lot is now where a two story grey house is now. The house a wooden elevated about 4 feet the storm surge floaded it into Bismark Club intact. When morning came a thieve was caught taking our recently filled 100 pound cylinder gas tank. My mom shouted at him and I ran him down with a machete the tank fell from off his shoulders as he ran and fell on the valve. As I went to close the valve the butane fumes got me dizzy and I fainted. A lady wet my head and I revived. Later in the afternoon the late Rt Hon George Price came around offering people keys to new houses in Ladyville but my mom declined the offer saying she is from Belize City. My mom wash out the mud from the clothes in the clear water in the drain. There was lots of mud and the air was renk with dead fish and sea weed everywhere. We ended up living at Hunters Lane next to my aunt.

Pamela Robateau Crone
In both these hurricanes, our home got flooded. Our dad bundled us off in the Sabre, and we floated and poled down the Belize river, and took refuge at Barothy Farms. We only came back to clean up the mess. Lots of fun experiences.

Lyssis Alini Windsor
I remember hiding the whole while under the kitchen bench. I was living in Spanish Lookout. We all piled in the kitchen. We had a great corn crop damage. And the river swept the ferry all the way to Roaring Creek. We had to Cross the river in motor boats for a long time till that ferry came back.

George Ivan Sosa
What I can remember of Hurricane Greta was me and my bros assisting my Father in cleaning out piles of black/grey stinky mud from our grocery store on Water Lane. I think Greta could be called the “stinky mud” hurricane .

Re: Remembering Hurricane Greta, 1978 [Re: Marty] #548122
02/12/21 05:33 AM
02/12/21 05:33 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 71,941
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP
by Alan Jackson

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to the Fisheries Unit Laboratory in Belize City from August 1976 to October 1978. Initially I lived in a boarding house on Prince Street during a four-week Peace Corps orientation. After that I was expected to find my own housing. Most PCVs in Belize City doubled or tripled up and shared flats wherever they could find reasonable rent. I had heard good things about a family that had just hosted two PCVs during our orientation weeks. One of those PCVs decided to continue boarding with that family while the other was moving to his jobsite in San Antonio, Toledo. I asked the family if I could board with them, and they welcomed me into their home. They were a young and charming couple with two daughters, 3 and 5 years old. They had recently moved into a large, two-story cement house on Euphrates Avenue between King and Dean streets. I stayed with them for the rest of my two years in Belize.

I woke up early on the morning of Sunday, September 17, 1978. I quickly ate breakfast, left the house and stepped out onto Euphrates Avenue. I knew that Hurricane Greta was tracking toward Belize, but there did not seem to be a sense of urgency in the community. I had arranged to meet a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Matt Connor, who was going to walk with me around the city and shoot some photographs. Matt had an expensive camera and had agreed that, if I supplied the film, he would take the pictures. My two years in Belize would be ending in three weeks, and I wanted to get a few more pictures of the city before I left

Matt was a memorable character. He was funny, outgoing, good-looking and smart. He was also a stylish dresser and stood out from the rest of us PCVs by wearing crisply starched and ironed button up shirts instead of the de facto Peace Corps uniform of faded tee shirts and jeans. Soon after arriving in Belize, Matt began dating the daughter of his host family. He also bought an old car and was the only PCV who had his own vehicle, which was strictly against Peace Corps rules. Matt had previously been a PCV in Southeast Asia but was reassigned to Belize for reasons left only to our speculation.

Neither one of us had enough money to buy gas, so Matt met me at the Fisheries Unit Laboratory on Princess Margaret Drive, and we started our photo shoot from there on foot. It was a beautiful morning with a deep blue sky studded with large white clouds, and there was a light breeze coming out of the north.

We left the Fisheries compound and headed south on Barrack Road. We stopped to take pictures of Sea View Hospital, the Frederick Gahne Town Clock on Barrack Road, Her Majesty’s Prison on Gaol Lane, St. Catherine Convent, the U.S. Consulate, the Peace Corps Office on Cork Street, the Paslow Building, the Price home on Pickstock Street, Holy Redeemer Cathedral, Swing Bridge, the Old Market, the Coca Cola clock at Market Square, and finally the Courthouse. Looking up, we saw a single red flag flying high above the Courthouse to indicate that Belize City was under a hurricane watch. Both Regent and Albert streets were nearly deserted, which was not unusual for an early Sunday morning. The stillness of the city, combined with the sight of the red hurricane watch flag, gave us an ominous feeling, and we decided to end our photo shoot early.

The next morning, I went to work at Fisheries. Reports issued over Radio Belize indicated that Hurricane Greta was moving west-northwest just off the coast of Honduras toward Belize. Mr. Miller, the Fisheries Administrator, called a meeting first thing that morning and outlined what we would have to do to be ready for Greta. We all pitched in and put up the storm shutters on the windows. Even though there were about 30 windows the task was not too difficult because each window was clearly numbered and matched to a numbered shutter.

Belize authorities had recently seized two Honduran sloop-rigged smacks that were caught fishing illegally in Belizean waters. These two sailboats were temporarily moored behind Fisheries alongside our research vessel, Panulirus Argus. Mr. Miller instructed our boat captain, Romie, to take all three vessels up Haulover Creek to safety. There was to be a special mid-day swinging of Swing Bridge to accommodate all the boats seeking safe harbor. The plan was to have Romie pilot the Panulirus Argus and tow the two sailboats behind. I would be at the tiller of one and Dwight would be at the tiller of the other. Neither Dwight nor I was an experienced boatman, so this was bound to be a tricky maneuver.

Romie got the boats ready and we slowly made our way to the mouth of the harbor. We could see boats lined up four and five abreast waiting for the bridge to swing. After a lot of jostling and maneuvering we took our place amongst the other boats. Despite the inadvertent bumping and scraping of boats, no one seemed agitated. There was a kind of comraderies among the boatmen as though we were all in this together. We finally secured the boats a short distance up the river, and my workday was done.

Mr. Miller told the staff that they were free to stay home and be with their families on Tuesday, the day that Greta was anticipated to make landfall in Belize. He asked me, however, because I had no home or family in Belize, to report to work. My job would be to maintain VHF radio contact with the Forestry Office at Augustine and then, before the road to the airport became impassable, to drive the Fisheries Land Rover to the airport where it would be safe from coastal flooding. I considered my host family as my actual family, and I was tempted to tell Mr. Miller that I really should go home to help them prepare instead of taking care of Fisheries. But, really, Mr. Miller was in a bind, had his own young family to be with, and I was happy to help.

On Tuesday, I went to work at Fisheries as usual and waited for Greta to make herself known. By midafternoon, the breeze was picking up and around 4:00 it started to rain. The yard in front was filling with water, and waves were dashing up against the planking of the little pier behind Fisheries. Sunset would not be until 5:50 but the sky already seemed to be darkening. At 5:00 I contacted Augustine Forestry Station to let them know that I was about to shut down the radio and take the Land Rover to higher ground. I jumped in the Land Rover and started to drive out of the compound. I immediately had a sinking feeling that maybe I was leaving for higher ground a little too late. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it to the airport before the Northern Road flooded, especially along the stretch where the Belize River and the Caribbean Sea nearly meet.

To my relief, the drive to the airport was without incident. The water had not yet risen much, although there were three or four inches of water in some areas. Otherwise, the road was clear with just a small amount of leaf and branch litter on it. At the airport I parked and locked up the Land Rover. Then I started to wonder, “Now what am I supposed to do?” Funny, but that was the first time I had even thought about having to spend the night at the airport. I really wanted to go back home and help my host family prepare. I knew that they could use the help; it was just the husband, wife and two little girls. I could help them get things off the downstairs floor.

It was now dark, and the wind was gusting strongly. I looked around the airport grounds and noticed that someone had just turned on the headlights of a red pickup truck. It looked like it was getting ready to leave the airport. I flagged it down and asked the driver where he was going. He told me that he was hoping to make it back to Belize City. There were two other people with the driver in the cab. I asked if I could get a ride, and he told me to hop into the truck bed. The bed was not covered, but it was not raining at the time. I hopped in and tapped on the top of the cab, “Let’s go!”

The pickup truck headed out of the airport grounds and toward the Northern Road. I hunkered down in the bed up against the cab. Just then it began to rain. I was wearing only a tee shirt and jeans and did not have a jacket with me. We turned onto the Northern Road and began to make our way toward the city. Almost immediately I realized that the odds of making it to Belize City were not good. I did not know it at the time, but the hurricane had just come ashore near Dangriga. It was raining harder, and I was thoroughly soaked and becoming cold. Within a mile we encountered several inches of water on the road. We pressed slowly on, dodging what looked like the deepest water and hoping for the best. Somewhere just before reaching Haulover Bridge, the pickup dropped into a large pothole, water came up to and into the engine compartment, and that was it. The engine stalled and could not be restarted.

Just then, and before I could really appreciate our predicament, a British Forces Bedford 4-ton, high clearance truck, headed in the opposite direction, drove up to us and came to a stop. A soldier got out of the truck to check on us. He said that he was going to Airport Camp and that we should go with him. I didn’t hesitate and climbed into the back of the large truck which was covered with canvas. The driver of the pickup said that he thought the worst of the hurricane was over and that he and his two companions would stay with his vehicle.

[Linked Image]

The British Forces truck pulled away from the stranded pickup truck, and we were on our way to Airport Camp. Even though the wind had now died down considerably, the road was littered with tree branches. At least twice along the way, the road was blocked by a large tree limb, and soldiers got out with machetes and a chainsaw to clear the way. It must have taken an hour to go the four miles to Airport Camp.

We pulled into Airport Camp, and I was ushered into a building and then into a small room and given a folding metal chair to sit on. The soldier said that I could stay there until morning. He also promised to bring me a blanket and a bowl of hot soup. He then left, and I was alone. I was cold and wet, and I looked forward to drying off and warming up with the soup, but nobody returned to check on me. I was left there for the duration of the night.

As soon as I saw the first light of morning, I let myself out of the building and walked to the airport where I had left the Land Rover the night before. I was now somewhat dry and not too cold, and I was happy to be going home. Much to my relief, the Land Rover started right up, and I pulled away from the airport. The water on the Northern Road had receded. The road was muddy and littered with debris but quite passable. There were no other vehicles on the road. As I entered the city and approached Central American Boulevard, I did not immediately see any hurricane damage, just a layer of mud on the streets. As I crossed over Belcan Bridge I looked to my left along Haulover Creek toward downtown, and I saw some houses that were severely damaged if not totally destroyed. I saw nobody on the streets. The city seemed eerily deserted.

I reached home to find my host family finishing up scooping the mud from the lower floor of their two-story home. There was a water line that went two or three inches up the walls. They looked up from their work at me and said, “Alan, nice of you to come lend a hand.” By noon, the house seemed back to normal. There was no other damage to the house. The mud on the streets of Belize City, however, would remain, fetid and foul, for days.

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