As an elder, I am intrigued to the point of being amazed by what happened last week to Acapulco, a famous tourist resort which is on the Pacific coast of Mexico. A mere tropical storm became a Category 5 hurricane with 165-miles-per-hour winds within the space of 12 hours. How does one prepare for a phenomenon like that?
We older Belizeans usually say we prefer to suffer hurricanes than to experience earthquakes, because earthquakes give their victims no warning, whereas we have several days to prepare for hurricanes, as destructive as they may be.
As we look back at Hurricane Lisa last year, something happened with that hurricane which was scary. We may see what happened with Lisa as some kind of a prelude to Otis. In the first place, Lisa was scheduled to hit the city the early afternoon, maybe two o’clock or so, but instead Lisa started lashing us in the late morning. In the second place, Lisa, when it hit Belize City, was significantly stronger, it seems to I, than the experts expected.
My family and I got caught in our home, unable to seek shelter in the house next door on our left, which is a ferro-concrete structure built on piles which is owned by my youngest brother, Ron, a kidney specialist of substance who lives in Arizona. My family and I had weathered Richard in 2010 and Earl in 2016 in his home. There is where we were headed for Lisa, but we got caught at 5861 Seashore, my home since 1987.
The Rt. Hon. George Price had given me a piece of land in early 1980, as a kind of gift in return for our newspaper’s support in the critical 1979 general election. I asked Lands Minister, Florencio Marin, Sr., for somewhere by the sea. The Belama Phase I area, behind Moho Caye and where the so-called “independence houses” were built in 1981, had recently been dredge-filled by the late Javier Berbey Garcia, I believe. So there is where I ended up, on a street later named Seashore Drive, in an area the United Democratic Party (UDP), which came to power in 1984, named Buttonwood Bay.
But I didn’t have any money to build in 1980. When I finally made a start in 1983 or 1984 with Rufus X as my builder, I couldn’t afford piles. So my home stands on what they call a “floating foundation,” not the safest foundation on swamp land which has been dredge-filled. So, when hurricanes threaten, I look left to Ron’s muscular home.
On the upper floor of my brother’s home, during the 2010 and 2016 storms, I could look through the glass windows and watch the huge, ferocious waves attack the coastline. Richard and Earl came from the east, but the waves, because of the shape of the Buttonwood Bay coastline, appeared to be attacking from the northeast, or even north.
During Richard, I saw a white American who later became my friend, Jeff James, fight single-handedly during the height of the hurricane to save his yacht, which ended up on the Seashore Drive beach. But that’s another story, for another time.
Well, yesterday, Tuesday, was the anniversary of Hurricane Hattie, which struck Belize (City) and Stann Creek Town (Dangriga) with Category 5 winds and waves in 1961. Hurricane Hattie was headed north to Cuba, but turned around and destroyed Belize City and Dangriga.
The case of Mitch in 1998 was another amazing meteorological phenomenon. Mitch came from the general area of South America’s northern coast, if I remember correctly, then entered the middle of the Caribbean Sea, where it quickly became the most dangerous hurricane our generation had ever seen, and Mitch headed straight for Belize.
The man in charge of weather at the time was Carlos Fuller, and his predictions were dire. Everybody who possibly could, got the hell out of Belize City. Myself, I managed to hit the road to Cayo around 9:30 or 10:00 the Tuesday morning. I was nervous about my vehicle’s radiator reliability, or lack thereof, but I reached Santa Elena, which is where my family would seek shelter from one of my wife’s relatives, the late Marcelina Cowo.
Before going there, it being around 1:15 or 1:30 in the afternoon, I decided to check with Dan Silva to see if he had space in his hotel on the hill. He made space for us.
It was just around this time that Mitch began to change direction, began to shift course southwards from his direct trip to Belize. Mitch ended up in Honduras, specifically and primarily the Bay Islands, and wreaked havoc in that general area of Central America. The sighs of relief in Belize were historic.
To end with a different subject, I don’t think there is anyone who is not a Zionist fanatic who is not horrified to watch what Israel is doing to the Gaza. I therefore second the motion of the two former Prime Ministers, Rt. Honourables Barrow and Musa, who have condemned the carnage in Gaza and called for a ceasefire.