It’s a miraculous thing that, as of Saturday morning, no one in Belize was killed in the darkest night the country has seen in more than a half century. (See damage to the famous tourist attraction San Pedro on Ambergris Caye here.)
Oldtimers down in the port city of Belize City and the surrounding Belize District (districts in BZ are somewhat like American states) say that Earl was the worst hurricane they’ve experienced since Hattie more than a half-century ago.
Hattie, of course, was a crushing Category 5 and killed 400 people. But Earl, being a low-grade Category 1, did damage beyond its grade because of its direct hit on Belize City and its march across so much of what is a small country.
As for me, I survived the night alone in my humble man cave 70-plus miles west of BZ City in my home city San Ignacio-Santa Elena.
The only damage to me was to my nerves in what was the most unnerving night of my life.
Here’s what Belizean leaders had to say about Hurricane Earl in the early aftermath Thursday at 1 p.m.
“That storm was a monster. It certainly seemed that way to all of us.
“There is some dispute as to whether the maximum sustained winds did not in fact significantly exceed the 75 miles per hour we had been told to expect and the Chief Met Officer is saying he’s yet to gather all the data.
“But he has his own suspicion feeling that in fact it was closer to 90 plus miles per hour. (Minister) Godwin Hulse says no, he will insist that it was 100.
“Whatever it was, we have survived, even if barely, and I would want to begin by saying that [we have and] no casualties, no loss of life reported.”
The massive destruction of homes, business and agriculture is another matter but I’ll get to that.
Here’s another quote that summed up the horror of the storm from Edwin Castro, Belize’s minister of NEMA, the National Emergency Management Association:
“I have never experienced a hurricane that lasted so long, pounding and pounding for hours. Each time it tend to raise you roof, you say well maybe this is the last one now and it keep on going for about 3,4-5 hours. Man, it tired you out.”
And then came hour 6 . . . and 7 . . . and so on . . .
The twin cities of Santa Elena and the commercial center San Ignacio where I reside are divided by the usually lazy Macal River, which spilled out of its banks so far Thursday that the open-air walls of always vibrant market disappeared under water most of the day.
Amazing, considering how far removed the market is on high ground above the banks.
Mercifully, the river waters that raged through downtown streets began receding as fast as they rose by late afternoon Thursday.
For two days people have been dealing with the removal of mud and sludge and the stench that inevitably arises from the sun-baking that follows a severe storm and flood.
People in so many river villages in BZ have been dealing with much worse: the loss or massive destruction of their homes being the worst.
Thousands in this country are currently homeless. Farmers in BZ–especially the thousands of small, hard-scrabble family farms so vital to keeping us fed–will suffer massive losses.
The ripple effects of Earl will be felt for days to come with more flash flooding downstream in the Belize District and the landslides that have people in the mountains stuck.
The people on the country’s two famously beautiful islands and biggest tourist attractions–Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye–suffered massive destruction on the beach fronts and have an enormous amount of reconstruction work to do on piers, about 90 percent of which are damaged.
[UPDATE: Meanwhile here in San Ignacio–where we’ve had a couple of days of blessed sunshine for drying out–a fierce thunderstorm just dumped on us for about 90 minutes (1 p.m.).
Lord in your mercy, have mercy on Belize.