Hurricane Iris devastates southern Belize

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 40            October 11, 2001

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Hurricane Iris roared ashore the southern coast of Belize Monday evening leaving several thousand homeless and wreaking havoc in coastal communities. This Category 4 hurricane, stated to be the most intense Atlantic storm of the season, contained wind speeds of up to 140 miles per hour and waves 18 feet above normal. Said to be comparable in strength to Hurricane Mitch, which hovered over Belize two years ago, Iris fortunately traveled at a much faster ground speed across land. Early reports indicate that damage was most severe in the resort village of Placencia where the main "street" (one long sidewalk) was said to be "building on top of building." Punta Gorda Town and the surrounding rural villages such as Seine Bight, Independence, Monkey River, Silver Creek and Mango Creek also suffered major damage. Off-shore holiday resorts were also affected, and the banana industry, a major source of income in the region was said to have been 85% destroyed. The citrus and shrimp industry also received severe damage. At least 15,000 people were reported to have evacuated their homes in advance of the hurricane. Amazingly, human casualties were limited; as of press time Wednesday, the National Emergency Management Organization reported 22 dead with eight reported still missing. Thirty-eight people were reported injured.

    The majority of deaths were isolated to an incident involving a capsized live-a-board dive boat. A release issued by the Belize Tourism Board stated that according to Tom Conlin, Executive Vice President of Peter Hughes Travel Agency, the company that owns and operates Wave Dancer Cruises, the boat was secured in Big Creek, a southern deep water port, where many ships go to ride out these storms. "Early reports are very sketchy, but apparently a wave surge snapped the lines and the boat capsized, sending all people aboard, including crew and a group from a dive club in Richmond, Virginia, USA into the water," stated Mr. Conlin. Information received Wednesday revealed that only three of the twenty divers and five of eight crew members aboard the Wave Dancer survived the ordeal. Anyone requiring further information may contact the American Consulate in the US at (202)-647-5226 or access website

    In an address to the nation Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Said Musa officially declared Belize "All Clear." Recovery and rebuilding efforts are currently underway. The Government of Belize has emergency teams in the south assisting with these recovery efforts and assessing possible damage throughout the region. Relief supplies and aid continue to pour in from all areas of Belize, from neighboring Latin American countries as well as from the international community. The Belize Defense Force, British Forces, Mexico and the US Armed Services are lending aid where it is needed. The Pan American Health Organization, the Salvation Army and UNICEF are providing medical assistance. The Belize Red Cross is working tirelessly - "Water and shelter materials will be distributed to those left homeless but it will take some time to complete the damage assessment," said John Humphreys, Head of Regional Delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Donations for the relief effort in Belize can be made to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

    Working together, Tourism Minister Mark Espat and the Minister of National Security Jorge Espat conducted a preliminary assessment of the affected areas, in an aerial and ground inspection. The Belize Tourism Board is lending its full support to the people affected in the southern region of the country and has dispatched teams, including Tourism Police Units to the areas most affected which include Placencia, Monkey River and surrounding villages. The teams will also be conducting a preliminary assessment of the damages to the industry and identifying immediate needs requiring instant attention.

    It is "business as usual" for other areas of the country, including the areas of Belize City, San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and San Ignacio Town. The Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport is open for business, international airlines are resuming their flights as scheduled and domestic airlines are operating. Bus and water taxi services have resumed their schedules as well.

    The Belize Tourism Board continues to work with the private sector, its counterparts in the United States who sell vacation packages to Belize, the travel agents, the airlines and the media to assist in the recovery efforts and to answer questions that may affect their clients' immediate travel plans and to accurately advise them of the current status in the affected areas. The Belize Tourism Board's toll free number, 1-800-624-0686 is operational and standing by to render information to travelers to Belize.

    Further updates on the affected areas will be provided as information becomes available.
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