October 31, 2006 marked the 45th anniversary of
Hurricane Hattie’s fatal landfall over the central coast of Belize, formally British
Honduras. “Hattie” was one of the most devastating hurricanes in the
annals of Belize,
although the death toll was very much less that that resulting from the impact
of hurricane Janet of September 1955, during which over 2000 persons died. The
final death toll in Belize
resulting from hurricane Hattie was 307 persons. The Governor at the time
reported that the comparatively lower death toll was due primarily to the
advanced warning received from local and neighboring radio broadcasts.
“Hattie” formed in the southwestern Caribbean north of the
Panama Canal Zone in the vicinity of San
on October 26, 1961, and was classified as a tropical storm by afternoon of
October 27, 1961. It intensified rapidly and reached hurricane intensity by
midnight. It continued northward through the western Caribbean and intensified
further on the 28th and 29th, posing a serious threat to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and western Cuba.
the day of the 29th “Hattie” began turning towards the left in
response to a major shift in the upper air circular pattern to the north of the
hurricane. The center passed between Grand Cayman and Swan
Island and by the early afternoon of
October 30th, was turning on a west-southwesterly course in a
direction directly for Belize
and the southern Yucatan
intensity had increased further. The highest, sustained winds near the center
were estimated at 150mph, with gust of around 200mph as it approached the coast
The central pressure was down to 23mb or 27.26 inches of mercury. The center
crossed the coast just south of Belize
City from just after midnight through the wee hours of
the morning on October 31, 1961, accompanied by destructive winds, a very high
storm surge, and torrential rainfall.
Like hurricane Carla that struck the SW
Texas coast earlier that season, “Hattie” has also been
posthumously classified as a category 5 hurricane. “Hattie” held category 5
intensity on October 30 and October 31, 1961.
The strong winds and flood waters associated with hurricane
“Hattie” destroyed all weather instruments and records. Storm tides of 10 to 11
feet were observed along the Belize
City waterfront, and waves deposited mud on the third
floor of some buildings that remained standing. Storm tides of 12 and 14 feet
were reported at other points in the Belize
The devastation was appalling. Almost every building in Belize City was damaged,
and about 40% were totally destroyed. Property losses in Belize were
estimated at US $60 million. A large part of this represented damaged in Belize City and Dangriga,
but there were unknown millions lost in fruits and timber. “Hattie” changed
course of history in Belize.
The devastation of Belize City
was so complete that plans were made to relocate the country’s capital to a
much safer location inland. Do you know that hurricane “Hattie” is the only
storm that may have had three names?
has come along way since 1961. The devastation wreaked by hurricane “Hattie”
remains burned in the psyche of the people. Hurricane forecasting and
technology has improved dramatically, and Belize now boasts a proactive and efficient National Emergency Management
Organization(NEMO), which involves all government ministries, and area
representatives, public officers and the private sector, including some NGOs.
Much has been accomplished in the area of emergency preparedness, and Belizean
public has been sensitized, must especially to the hazards related to extreme
hydro meteorological events.
However, as a people, we must remain vigilant,
plan ahead, and avoid indiscriminating development and settlements in highly
vulnerable areas, prone to the devastating winds and flood waters that
accompanied the ferocious hurricanes of Western Caribbean.
(This article was prepared by the National Meteorological Services of Belize)