No matter how many times you see this picture from Hurricane Hattie in 1961, it always leave an impact on you
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Thursday August 20, 2015

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Shipstern Nature Reserve is located in the north-eastern corner of Belize, covers an area of more than 11’000 hectares (ca. 27’000 acres), protecting a wide array of habitats, ranging from saline wetlands and lagoons to Yucatan tropical moist and dry forests. Shipstern Nature Reserve is home to all five cat species of Belize, the endangered Baird’s Tapir and a myriad of other plant and animal species, some of them very rare, and almost 300 species of birds.
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No matter how many times you see this picture from Hurricane Hattie in 1961, it always leave an impact on you

I can see my parents drugstore, Central Drugs Store, on the other side of the bridge. They told us that the mud was 7 feet high for several days!! I wasn't born yet but from their stories, I could tell it was horrible. They lived at Foreshore and lost a lot of stuff. Thankfully they were safe!!

This hurricane had an impact on a whole generation of Belizeans. It is always interesting to read about someone's Hattie experience on the outskirts of Belize City (what was then Prisoner Creek), on Caye Caulker (casualties were high on many Cayes), in a village like Mullins River and in Dangriga.

I have sat at the knees of my mom and elders and listen to the stories about Hatti and though I wasn't there it was frightening all the same to hear it all. May the souls of the departed rest in peace

The experience of one interviewee suggested that abandoning one’s place of residence for a seemingly safer place was not always the best decision. The decision was often made too hastily based on fear and the hazard of getting form one place to another was not contemplated enough. One interviewee and her family survived the storm at their family home at the foot of the Pound Yard Bridge on the southside of Belize City. With her husband confident that the family home could withstand the hurricane, she recalled that the decision was made not to go to a nearby hurricane shelter at Matron Roberts Health Center. Her family was joined by relatives at their home and they settled in to endure the hurricane.

But she recalled that when the wind started blowing and a sheet of zinc on the roof of the roof came loose her guest became frightened. Though a nearby house had collapsed, her family was reluctant to leave the house. They eventually made the decision to abandon the house and go to the health center. That was the wrong decision she indicated. A strong wind made it all but impossible to walk, and the party of 18 did not get too far. They then decided to go back home but had to seek temporary refuge in the nearby collapsed house. Eventually, they were able to get back into their home as a length of rope was found and a safety line tied between the two building to assist them in going back into their home.

There are other stories about decisions that were made in the midst of the hurricane that would help determine the faith of those who told their story about their hurricane experience. A teacher at the Anglican school in Pomona (Stann Creek District) when the hurricane struck, one interviewee recalled that a day before the hurricane made landfall she was convalescing at the Stann Creek hospital. Against the advice of nurses at the hospital, she decided to leave the hospital and return to Pomona 13 miles inland from Stann Creek Town to be with her family. Doing so she felt this decision might have save her life, since the hospital was largely washed out to sea during the hurricane.

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Report of casualties directly tribute to Hurricane Hattie which struck British Honduras on October 31, 1961.
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In Pomona she made another faithful decision that resulted in lives being saved. Some of the residents of Stann Creek town had traveled to the inland village of Pomona to shelter from the hurricane. The Anglican school where she taught was to be used as the hurricane shelter. But knowing that the new building was poorly constructed, she explained being adamant about not using the building as a shelter and instead chose the church to be the shelter. Wanting instead for the church to serve as the shelter, her insistence led to heated exchange with a citrus grower and prominent resident of the village. He had been instrumental in the construction of the school and wanted it to serve instead as the shelter.

She prevailed and the church was fortunately used as the shelter. She described how while in the church being able to observe the scene of the hurricane’s destruction, as the wind got stronger. She observed flying corrugated zinc roofing decapitating threes. She also describe a man trying desperately to get into the church, the strong winds slowing his advance. Then in the midst of the howling winds the school was blown down. She recalled that in the aftermath of the hurricane she confronted the grower and stated “What if we had used the school as a shelter?”

I know that in the aftermath of the hurricane some people relocated. Of course we all know that in the aftermath of the hurricane the US allowed a significant number of Belizean to go to that country as refugees (if they had relatives in the US).

  • I Remember that hurricane ,I was 6 Years old,the water came so high,the winds was horrible ,I was scared,something never to forget.Thank God we are still alive

  • I recall the stories my mom told me about this. She was 9 yrs old during Hattie. They called the bodies of those recently deceased "Fresh dead" because the unbricked graves were undone and bodies floated up in the floods. The sneaked out if the to go see this. And then she talked about the strange phenomenon when the water is pulled from the sea..the sea empties some tyoe of surge (Does anyone know what this is called?). People got curious to go see it....only to meet a devastating fate when the water returned with a vengeance. Somethings, according to her would have been better unseen, for me it would have been better unimagined. It made me so fearful of hurricanes.

  • I was upstairs of Paslow Building my whole family my brother got cut with piece of flying glass wasn't nice went back to Piskstock st water nearly up to our waist Henkis family

  • I'm told my dad and mom were just starting to flirt with each other and he helped protect her family and cemented the love relationship. I might not have been here if it weren't for Hattie.

  • I was 9yrs old. My dear Uncle Leroy Gullap was Deputy superintendent of the prison and based Rockville Center at the time. He packed up my grandma, my mom, my other uncle, Winston Gullap, my brother, Wilhelm and his family and other folks into a truck headed for Rockville. Five miles before we reached, we had to stop the truck due to the high winds, the rain and rising water. We passed Hurricane Hattie on the side of the road safely, thank God. Coming back we saw the devastation in Belize City. That's when my mom and I went to Corozal and stayed a year. Loved it there.

  • Where deaths and destruction that occurred at Southern Foreshore and the Barracks is concerned, it pose an interesting question about social vulnerability and the relationship to social class. Houses in these two areas were better constructed than houses in other parts of Belize City, but facing and in close proximity to the sea (the Barracks) and the Haulover Creek (Southern Foreshore) meant that these houses were more exposed to natural hazards (the strong winds and the storm surge).

    In his book on Hurricane Hattie the Belizean Canadian Milton Arana wrote about the destruction: "One of the most interesting things to note was the way in which houses had fared. Many large, seemingly secure houses had been swept away. Many small, apparently weak, houses had withstood the storm. It was quite amazing. One of the most badly damaged areas was the Southern Foreshore, lined with big upper class homes. Of one of these homes, only two post stuck out of the foundation. Of another at the Barracks, another area of big homes, the only thing left was the bare concrete foundation, swept clean by wind and water."

    One interviewee who lived at the foot of Pound Yard Bridge recalled that a few hours after the hurricane passed over Belize City and it was calm the late Dr. Bernice Hulse passed her house paddling a dorey and told and told her and others she was on her way to check on her house (located at Southern Foreshore). Dr. Hulse had spent the night of the Hurricane at Matron Roberts Health Clinic, which had served as a hurricane shelter.

    While Dr. Hulse had survived the hurricane and fortunately her house was still standing, few of her neighbors lost their lives and the home of many was significantly damaged or destroyed. The most notable resident of the area who lost his life in the hurricane was the Trinidadian born Garveyite (one of the founders of the pro British National Party) Dr. Lionel Francis.

  • In terms of the help offered by British forces, its interesting comparing the role of the British forces (the colonial power) with that offered by the U.S, Navy (the regional and global power). The Americans arrived in Belize before the British, and their helicopters made it possible for the rescue and relief effort to reach rural areas. (The Mexican plane from Chetumal that crashed in northern Belize would have been the first aid to arrive in the colony. Guatemala also sent a plane) However, when British forces arrived from Jamaica (along with some Jamaican constables) they helped the police and Volunteer Guards patrol the streets and stop the looting.

  • I survived Hurricane Hattie in the Paslow Building because I did not have time to get home from the movie theater when the hurricane started. Having never been in a hurricane before, as teenagers we did not take it serious, despite the warnings from the older folks who survived the 1931 hurricane. I went to see a movie at Palace theater and around 10 pm we could see through the high windows that the rain and the wind had picked up. We got outside and it was raining sideways due to the wind velocity. Quick decision was to make it to Paslow building. It was packed with people. Around 1 pm the hurricane was in full swing, the lights went out, the roof started peeling off, and people started screaming. It was so scary with the screaming and the pitch darkness that I could not stop my knees from shaking. The hurricane made it feel as if the building would not survive. Around 5 to 6 am the hurricane began to subside and we could stand on the balcony between the windows that protruded outward. The water did not 'surge' in like some people believe, it rose slowly to about 8 to 12 feet. We saw the firemen from the firehouse across the street go next door and smash in the front windows and helped themselves to bottles, even cases of liquor. The water subsided to about 2 or 3 feet when I decided to head out trying to get home. What was normally a 10 min walk turned out to be hours because of the debris and houses fallen into the street. Hurricane Hattie stories can be very long so I better stop here before I bore everyone. From that one hurricane experience, I promised myself that I will always try to avoid a hurricane !!

  • I was 10 yrs old me my mom my sister's and brother we were able to go at Saintignatious school to weather the hurricane.From what i could recall it started to rain about sometime in the evening,people crowing the building, my mom went there prepared for the stom i didn't know what it was all about all knew my mom woke us up and she told start praying because the building was shaking and the wind was bowling real hard i never in my lifetime heard the wind blow like that it frightening and everybody was praying some was crying. But u know something God is mercyful and Gracious and compassionate to everyone believe and to the unbelievers .

  • Going to a hurricane shelter was an interesting experience for a lot of people. There were few people who had a vehicle (or access to one), resources and a place to stay outside of Belize City who were able to evacuate. And for those who stayed, there was the initial decision of whether to go to a hurricane shelter. Many people chose not to go to a shelter like the Turton Library or Matron Roberts clinic because they right though that those whether would be crammed with people and there was no privacy.

    While those shelters were inclusive they had more exclusive shelters such as the Barclays Bank building where only employees and their family or close friends had access to the shelter. This certainly reflected people's social capital (who you know). As for those who stayed at home like my family, the decision was made about whether the house properly constructed and high off the ground to withstand the hurricane. Some people who felt they had a poorly constructed house went to shelter at the house of a family member, neighbor or friend. Again this reflect their access to social capital.

    You are right in that amazing things happen in a natural disaster like a hurricane, and often its seems like its a game of chance in terms of what gets damaged or destroyed by natural hazard that is often seen equal opportunity destroyer. Also, while certain groups are more vulnerable during a natural disaster (the poor, the elderly, ethnoracial minorities, and overall the marginalized), the disaster can have a different impact on two communities or two groups (in close proximity to each other), because of a certain geographical setting. More important, there is a social ecology to natural hazards that can turn to a disaster. The difference on the impact of Hattie on Mullins River vs. Gales point and Freetown Sibun comes to mind, or Caye Caulker and San Pedro. The hurricane also had a greater impact on Stann Creek Town than Belize City.

  • my mom passed the Hurricane there at Paslow as well. she told us how they walked from Prisoner Creek, Lyons Alley to Paslow. Even though I have never experienced anything close to that it still gives me chills seeing these pictures and remembering her stories of that Hurricane.

  • I was six yrs old when Hattie i remember my family had to come out of our house during the storm bcaz of the water rising we went cross to our neighbor houses at the corner york & Lancaster st mr.adoulphus zinc flying around like paper that wasn't fun

  • I was 4 yrs old and I have never forgotten a man they tied to a rope and he save many lives as the water came up to the first floor and people were screaming zincs flying house rocking wind howling and this man went out into the water and few men were holding the rope in the house I have never forgotten the stench days after

  • The smell of dead bodies was everywhere also they burn the bodies i think it was out at the barracks

  • I remember after the hurricane we use to go for ration at ywca

    This is a copy of pages from the Soldier magazine at the time describing the help offered by the British forces.

    Here is an interesting story by Ray Auxillou (comptroller @ Caye Caulker, I believe), about getting supplies from Belize to repair Caye Caulker. [The barrier cayes of Turneffe Island and Caye Caulker were totally submerged by the storm surge].

    Here's the story from Ray in his own words....

    After reporting to Governor Thornly at Queen Street police Headquarters (Belize City), after returning from Caye Caulker, I asked for permission to get tools and hardware from Hofius Hardware, still standing. The Governor said fine, but I asked for a written piece of paper, with his signature on it. He gave it to me, but said he couldn´t enforce it. I and a couple of Caye Caulker helpers ( one was Leslie from the Caye ) went to Hofius walking, but the manager, would not let me have anything. So I went back to Governor Thornly and he told me he could not help me. I asked for a pistol, as the crowds were looting up and down the street and the Manager of Hofius ( an Englishman ) was worried if he opened his doors he would get looted too. We had two sailboats by the then Marketing Board, on the riverside and had to walk through about 3 or 4 feet of mud around the city. I lost my shoes and never had another pair.

    Anyway the Governor referred me to a military officer ( a Major ) who seemed to be in dispair and sort of crying, as he had no men, etc. I told him that I needed some soldiers to take with me and the Governor had approved it. He went on and on, but finally, a patrol just coming off a 12 hour shift, volunteered. At least one corporal and a private. I also asked the Police Seargant for a pistol, telling him the Governor had approved it. He lent me his. Not sure of the caliber, and I promised to have it back in an hour. Leslie, another fisherman, two soldiers and myself went to the Police Station gate, and the military guy officer who I had asked, said there were no lorries available, as they were either without gasoline, or on the airport shuttle for supplies.

    So I asked my guys to wait and walked up the street a bit, and flagged the first 3 ton Bedford truck coming by empty. I think they had been carrying stuff to the Marketing Board shed? Anyway, I jumped in the passenger side and said I was commandeering the truck for an hour. The driver protested, but I stuck the pistol in his ribs and told him to pick up my crew by the Police Station gate. He did and off we went. We went around the back door of Hofius Hardware, as the manager refused to let us use the front door, as the mob were looting all the stores along the street, we went with the truck in the alley and had to finish knocking down a telephone pole to get to the doors. I went in by the front door and Louise Sylvester, the area representative was arguing and pleading with the manager to get tools, but the manager resolutely refused. I listened and there was a crowd in there with permission to get stuff, but the English manager wasn´t budging.

    The corporal and private were with me, and they were armed, I told the Corporal to arrest the manager and he put his rifle in the guy´s belly and pushed him back against the wall. The soldier private and one of my Caye fisherman went to the back and opened the doors and we start loading, house jacks, axes, crowbars, nails, hammers and all kinds of sundry things. Finally, the manager being held against the store wall, pleaded to me, to let him at least get a pen and paper to write down the stuff I was taking. Did that, and after that everything went smoothly. We filled the truck with stuff, then went to the Marketing Board and did the same there with food. Leslie ( a Caye black man ) had got himself arrested someplace and I rescued him and we loaded the truck with food at the Marketing Board and went around to the two sailing sloops.

    While the boys loaded the vessels, I took the pistol back to the police seargeant at the Queen street police station, let the soldiers go and get some sleep, the truck was sent on his way and reported to Governor Thornly that we had our stuff and were going back to Caye Caulker. He was amazed and asked how I did it. When he heard, he simply said, he didn´t want to hear any more, but give him a report on Caye Caulker next time in town. It was some days later, and at that time the British Ship had arrived and naval doctors set up in the BLISS INSTITUTE. I went in and got my feet tended too. The doctor said he took 36 pieces of glass out of my bare feet. A good salt water sea wash fixed that for infection.

    The people on the Caye really did good. They organized themselves in teams, and got stuff done quick time. Several political types, went in by boat, but were unable to get any cooperation from anybody. Next time I went in, I got zincs and hardware supplies for shelters. About three weeks later, Louise Sylvester came out by British military helicopter, but things were going well and he left. A year of so later, George Price, First Minister I think? Or some title, wrote me and asked how much I wanted for my work after the Hurricane. I toted it up, and submitted a claim for $120 Bz and received a voucher for the money and one day months later cashed it. I thought it was nice to be so recognized. For some years afterward, I was joshingly called GOVERNOR on Caye Caulker.

    Photograph courtesy Noel J. Escalante

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