"Freak storm" causes damage in San Pedro

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 33            August 29, 2002

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Residents of San Pedro witnessed a very rare weather phenomenon last Thursday night as a whirlwind (waterspout, tornado) quickly formed on the front (eastern) part of the island and passed through certain areas of San Pedro Town, tearing up everything in its path. Although the Belize Meteorological Center had announced that two tropical waves were in the vicinity, no one expected this sort of disturbance. It is believed that the tropical waves produced severe thunderstorms, which moved across Ambergris Caye and other parts of the country. With these storms came extremely gusty winds that soon formed a whirling funnel-shaped column that passed through the island unexpectedly.

    The "freak storm" first made land at the Blue Water Grill and decided to reorganize the tables and chairs, causing chaos. According to Ms. Kelly McDermott, proprietor of the restaurant, there were about 20-25 tourists dining at her establishment at about 9:15 p.m. when she noticed the back door of her establishment slam shut from strong wind. She says she could literally see the wind coming in from the back. Others present also saw the wind forcing itself from other sides. Her guests had to hold on to posts and some quickly hid inside the kitchen and the air-conditioned dining area of the restaurant for safety. Ms. McDermott told The San Pedro Sun that she lost hundred of dollars worth of dinner wear but luckily her guests only suffered minor cuts and bruises. "As quickly as it came it was gone, leaving everybody startled," concluded Ms. McDermott. 

    According to witnesses the "twister" then targeted Aqua Dives. The whirlwind lifted one of their water vessels into the air and dropped it onto the dock. The tornado then started traveling west over the island destroying large trees as it made its way to the San Pedro Airstrip. There, the monstrous funnel swallowed a six-seater Australian Airbus, the property of Maya Island Air, and tossed it over the Maya Island Terminal, spitting it onto Lion Street between the Subaquatic Recompression Chamber and the terminal. Another Maya Island Air aircraft, a three-seater Cessna, also received damages to its left wing and tail. According to Mr. Fernando Trejo, General Manager of Maya Island Air, the damages caused to both airplanes are over one million Belize dollars. Although the airline suffered major losses, it continues to operate on schedule.

    The twister then turned to the BoatYard where some 30 unsuspecting Sunset Bar clients witnessed an increase in winds "to about 100 miles per hour" stated one patron. According to BoatYard owner Tom Vidrine, the tornado picked up several golf carts, some only six feet away from where people were standing. Two carts in particular were lifted into the air, and dropped across the yard. A brand new golf cart, rolling like a tumbleweed, stopped just short of going into the lagoon but was totally destroyed. Another golf cart was lifted up and dropped back, upside down, also totally destroyed. The spout continued across the BoatYard, lifted three boats dry-docked in the yard, and then demolished the southern dock, sinking the eight boats attached to it. The Sunset Bar also received damage to its electronic equipment and one of its palapas. Still hungry for more, the twister continued on its way to the San Pedrito Area where it tore the roofs off of three homes in that neighborhood leaving the affected occupants in shock.

    Although this weather phenomenon was responsible for significant damage to the areas it visited, luckily, there were no fatalities. As the residents of San Pedro awoke Friday morning they were surprised with what they saw. The older residents say that it has been over 30 years since one of these "mangeras" (waterspouts) hit the island.

    Deputy Mayoress Mel Spain visited the affected areas early Friday morning to assess the damages and offer assistance to those affected on behalf of the San Pedro Town Council. Mrs. Spain also met with Belize Defense Force personnel who were on the island to evaluate the situation. She stated the town had already received support calls from the Punta Gorda Town Council and the Ministry of Works.

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