Monday, October 31, marked 55 years since an event that changed the course of history in many ways of the then colony of British Honduras. The year was 1961; that event was a category five hurricane by the name of Hattie.
Belize had been hit in 1931 by a strong hurricane and the number of lives lost was over 2,500. The loss was great because there was very little warning. The hurricane struck on September 10, a day when the “natives” were out commemorating the Battle of St. George’s Caye. The then governor of the colony refused to warn the citizens, since in his mind the common folks were relieving the stress of a very hard life in the colony.
Six years before Hattie, Hurricane Janet did great damage to Corozal and Chetumal (Payo-Bispo). There was much more warning for Hattie, although many did not heed the warnings.
The storm confused us more by, by-passing us on a northerly direction, stalling and then making a complete turn heading straight for British Honduras.
The devastating winds and tidal surge destroyed most of Belize City and the surrounding areas. Today there is still evidence of the hurricane; many houses were brought down to ground level; and the big islands were split by the tidal surge.
Belize got by with some foreign aid, and the US opened its doors for those who wanted to go north. After self-government in 1964, Premier George Cadle Price had a hard time to keep the country focused on rebuilding; most people’s goal was to go to the US.
Many who remained waited on remittances and barrels to get by. The huge exodus caused severe social problems in family structure in the seventies and eighties; meanwhile, today Central Americans fleeing civil wars have now filled that void.
This has caused a severe strain on our society, including our education and labour system etc.
As we approach November, we are breathing a sigh of relief (knock on wood), as we are at the end of the hurricane season.
On August 4 we were hit by category one Hurricane Earl, from which we are still recovering. We now take hurricanes much more seriously.
Alfonso C. Ramirez