Wilma wrecks the Yucatan Peninsula

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 15, No. 42            October 27, 2005

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San Pedro, Ambergris Caye and the rest of Belize sustained very minor damage despite that the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic and Caribbean hovered less than two hundred miles from Belize shores. The hurricane ultimately veered north, wrecking havoc on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

   On Tuesday, San Pedro’s waters began getting a little choppy and a little rough, all works of Hurricane Wilma brewing in the Caribbean Sea. On October 19th, Wednesday, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) issued a tropical storm warning as the threatening storm approached. Belize residents held their breath as Wilma grazed its shores.

   By Thursday morning, the waves crashing on Ambergis Caye’s shores prompted all to travel to the beaches and gaze at the majestic powers of Mother Nature. The waves crashed over Belize’s barrier reef sending a spray of white mist and huge waves unto the white sandy beaches. As the waves crashed some piers broke under their mighty force, palapas either could not withstand the strength of the waves or their cement anchors were uprooted after the sand around them had been washed away. Some sections of the beach were littered with sea grass, debris and sea creatures, such as sea urchins, jelly fish and fishes.

   While little damage occurred to resorts or private homes, the worst damage was afflictd on the piers across Ambergris Caye. Areas across San Pedro Town, such as San Pedrito, San Juan, DFC Subdivision, Boca del Rio Area and San Mateo got flooded from the rising lagoon waters on the west side of the island, primarily flooding yards, but not reaching a high enough level to do significant damage. In some places water reached people’s knees as they tried to leave their homes. NEMO advised those residents who believed their homes could not withstand tropical strength winds to leave and seek refuge at family or friends’ residences.

   Caye Caulker, San Pedro’s neighboring island, suffered the same scenario as “La Isla Bonita.” Beaches were battered and littered and piers broke down.

   Belize City and other areas in the mainland experienced heavy gusts of wind while some of Corozal’s beaches also received heavy beach erosion.

   Wilma’s wrath was unleashed in Cuba where nearly a quarter million people were evacuated over the weekend as “Wicked Wilma” lashed the island with rain and winds. Severe coastal flooding was reported in many areas due to Wilma’s strong storm surge and flooding occurred from the outer bands, particularly around Havana. Over 250 homes were heavily flooded and rescuers required scuba gear, inflatable rafts and amphibious vehicles to reach the most severely flooded areas. The city of Havana was also without power and wind damage was reported as a result of winds up to 85 mph (140 km/h).

   Among the thousands of evacuees were 265 Belizean eye patients and students. On October 24th, a press release was issued by the Belize Embassy in Cuba and stated that the 265 Belizean students/patients on the island were safe. The Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture pleasantly reported that all Belizean students currently located in the affected areas of Cuba had been contacted and accounted for. The Embassy of Belize in Cuba re-opened its doors on Tuesday, October 25th.

   The impact Wilma had in its course highly affected other parts of the Caribbean, Cancun, Mexico and Florida. Wilma slammed into Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and “relentlessly kept pounding” on Mexico early Saturday. According to the National Hurricane Center Wilma packed winds reaching 125 mph and dumped “tremendous” amounts of rain that did not let up in the popular tourist area of Cancun for a day. The tourist destination took a fierce battering as the center of the record breaking Category 3 storm passed directly over Cozumel Island before making landfall near Playa de Carmen, south of Cancun. The roaring winds were so strong that they bent trees and traffic lights completely over while shearing the covering off of the roof of businesses. Civil Engineers from Playa del Carmen stated that the city was all but destroyed. The storm surge in Cancun reached an unbelievable new high of 11 feet. More than 20,000 tourists in Yucatan resorts were ordered out of their beachfront hotels, and those who could not find transportation out of the area were evacuated to shelters. Because many houses in the region are made of concrete, some residents chose to ride out the storm in their homes.

   Fed up after five days in hot and dirty emergency shelters, tens of thousands of haggard tourists, battled for airline and bus seats out of Mexico’s hurricane-battered Caribbean resorts on Tuesday. Officials said they still had no solid estimate of the damage caused by Hurricane Wilma, which lashed the coastline Friday and Saturday and wiped out the heart of Mexico’s $11 billion foreign tourism industry, even washing away Cancun’s famed white beaches. The public is advised that the highway leading from Chetumal to Cancun are “impassable” and will remain closed for a period of time.

   In Florida, early reports suggested the damage from Wilma was so extensive and widespread over South Florida due to winds and flooding. Key West is under three to six feet (1 to 2 metres) of water from the storm surge, and major flooding was reported throughout the Keys. More than 3.2 million homes, or about 6 million people, are currently without electricity, and many windows were knocked out of high-rise buildings, roofs were torn off buildings and many mobile homes were destroyed. In addition, even while the center of Wilma was still a long way away from Florida, its effects were already being felt with its expansive outer bands. Flooding was reported in several areas, particularly in Broward County. The damage in Fort Lauderdale has been described as the worst in at least 55 years. Current insured damage estimates range between $6-9 billion in Florida, which would likely result in a total cost of $10-15 billion in the state.

   At press time, the center of Wilma was located near latitude 41.7 north, 62.8 longitude west or about 205 miles south south-east of Hallifax, Nova Scotia. Wilma is moving towards the north east at 85 km/hr and expected to dissipate in the days to come.

   Hurricane Wilma was the 21st named storm, twelfth hurricane, and sixth major hurricane of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It is also the third Category 5 hurricane of the season, beating the records set by the 1960 and 1961 seasons. At its peak, it was the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, with the lowest atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere of 882 millibars at sea level, a record previously held by Hurricane Gilbert. With Wilma, this season ties the previous record for the number of named storms previously set in 1933. However Wilma crossed that mark a month earlier than in 1933. At least 33 deaths have been reported, not including at least 12 deaths in Haiti and one in Jamaica which were also blamed on the Hurricane. Insured damage is estimated at between US$8-12 billion (about $6-9 billion in the US) and total damage likely to be in the $15-20 billion range, which would rank Wilma among the top 10 costliest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin.

   People anxiously watched as Wilma fluctuated in strength and direction, being wobbly at times but moving ever so slowly at 8mph. Within less than 18 hours, Wilma grew from a tropical storm showing winds of under 119 km/h to the strongest level of hurricane capable of being recorded on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, packing sustained winds of about 282 km/h.

How can you help?
Once again in these struggling times, the help of the community is needed, this time more than ever. A letter addressed by the Deputy Mayor, Severo Guerrero, is asking the public for assistance. The letter stated, “As you may all be aware, our neighboring countries Quintana Roo and Yucatan were seriously affected by the wrath of Hurricane Wilma. These people are now in dire need of assistance. It is with that in mind, that the San Pedro Town Council is humbly requesting your generous cooperation to assist these people in need. When our beloved “Isla Bonita” was affected by Hurricane Keith in 2000, keep in mind that the people of Mexico were among the first to lend a helping hand to us – it is now our turn to reciprocate this favor. Therefore, the San Pedro Town Council is asking for donations whether it is monetary, canned goods, non-perishable goods, usable clothing, or medication. Let us unite to help the victims of Hurricane Wilma.” Remember that the hurricane season ends on November 31st and we still have to keep our fingers crossed that no more storms develop and affect us. The public is encouraged to lend a helping hand and aid the hurricane victims in there time of need.”

   Parents, friends and relatives wishing to send provisions, donations, or supplies to family members in Cuba, should take note that a direct flight from Belize to Cuba is scheduled for Saturday, October 29th. Anyone needing more information can contact the TACA Airlines Office at the Phillip Goldson International Airport, the Embassy of Cuba in Belize and the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture.

   Despite all the destruction and the great loss that millions of people have succumbed to, people are already picking up the pieces of their homes. The economies have suffered tremendously and an uncertain estimated cost in losses is yet to be accounted for, apart from the billions already lost some areas.

   Every cent counts, every bit goes a long way, give anything at all, to the people who need it the most because we do not know what the future holds for us.

Note: Caye Caulker Photos courtesy of Ellen McRae



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