Hurricane Hattie in San Pedro - 1961

"Twenty Five Years Ago" will take you to 1961, 35 years ago on October 31. That tragic day many San Pedranos will remember as the day Hurricane Hattie hit Belize and Ambergris Caye.

Radio Belize had obtained reliable information from the Miami Weather Bureau and its affiliate base in the Swan Islands that Hattie was threateningly approaching the Caribbean Basin and posing a serious threat to Belize. For us kids it started as a day of excitement since the waves were rolling all the way up to the fences of the houses along the beach. We were thrilled as we ran up the beach, 75 to 100 feet, as the waves raced behind us. Besides, classes had been canceled to add to our ecstacy.

Later that day several fishing boats and their crews arrived from their fishing expeditions to Turneffe and Glover's Reef. They did not anchor as usual at the main pier for the wives and children to come welcome them and learn about their "lucky trip." Rather this time, they went straight to "Boca del Rio" and into the lagoon where all the other fishing vessels had been secured.

By one o'clock that afternoon, the sound of hammers filled the air. All the men were nailing boards across windows and doors. Some extra strips of boards were nailed over the zinc roofs and those who had thatch roofs secured them by tying them down with ropes. As an extra measure, the men fastened 4 by 4 planks diagonally from the wall to the ground; this was done on all four walls so that the house would not lean to one side.

Inside the home, mothers and the rest of the family were busy packing clothing and other valuables into large boxes and baking bread that would last for 2 or 3 days. Every possible container was filled with drinking water and objects were removed from walls and shelves and placed in the center of the room. The hurricane lanterns were filled with kerosene and made ready for the night. Everyone was buying batteries for their radios and flashlights as the children kept running the beaches, now delighting in catching little fish that the waves swept ashore.

By 5 o'clock, when it was 100% certain that Hattie would hit us, everyone took out their belongings and went to their hurricane shelters. We were looking for board and large houses that were away from the beach. Blake House, now the Barrier Reef Hotel, was full to capacity. The priest's house and other buildings on Middle Street were the main shelters. Our family, as most of the Nunez and some 10 other families related through marriage, was sheltering at my grandfather's house where J's Laundromat is presently located. My parents lived upstairs and operated their store downstairs, "La Favorita". If the building would withstand the ravages of the storm, food would not be a problem.

By nine that pitch black night the wind was blowing 60 miles per hour and the rain hit like pellets. By then the streets were empty and the looks on the men's faces told us something serious was going on. After the crying of women told us that the serious thing would bring us misery. A few drunk men came to our shelter around 11 p.m. with the news that the building on the kraal in front of our home had been knocked down by the sea. By midnight they returned with the terrible news that my father's house had been broken up by the kraal. They were chased away by the men, and the crying intensified.

Hurricane Hattie spat out its fury and its wrath from midnight to 3 a.m. Our shelter shook like a play house. Heavy objects, being blown away, hit our shelter with resounding impacts. The cracks of thunder intensified our pounding hearts and the streaks of lightning brought daylight every 10 seconds. The roar of the wind was constant and water was dripping all about. The level of the water on the streets had risen and was about 2 inches in our lower flat. We stayed still on top of boxes and found comfort among the bags of sugar and flour and rice. Others were lying on the counter with wide open eyes, as babies cried innocently for their bottles. Several men kept a tight grip on ropes that were fastened to the main door and at times it seemed like the wind would overpower them. The women kept praying the entire time and the children looked quietly at their faces to see if they would break. If the men cried, no doubt the children would follow.

About 3 a.m. the worst was over and there was a noticeable drop in the fierceness of the monster. But the women kept praying and the lit candles added to the stuffiness and heat in our shelter. The men were desperate to go outside and assess the damage, but my grandmother would not give the okay. By 5 a.m. grandma, in a very authoritative and cautious way, gave in to the request for a survey, and within 10 minutes we got the shocking news. ALL THE BEACH WAS GONE. "Todo es fue," was the report of my uncle Cruz as he embraced my father since he was the only Nunez on the beach. We lived in the lot at the foot of the Tackle Box Bar. Other houses could be seen in parts, 50% battered but still there. Not ours - not a nail, not a piece of board, not a square inch remained. And the thought of the kraal in front of our home still enrages me to this day. And the thought of so many buildings on the sea fills me with fear and pity for those along the beach.

When I did get to the beach area our lot was barren, like a wet desert with giant waves still rolling upwards as if to say, "We conquered." Front Street was 50% gone and Middle Street was practically there. Ten inches of water and tons of debris still covered Middle Street as I went home crying silently. It was not only my home, it was my pigeon house with a dozen pigeons, the almond tree, the coconut trees, the well, the pig pen - everything was gone. The storm was over but the crisis had begun.

To be continued next issue...

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