Flash Report on Hurricane Keith
Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker
were hit hard by Hurricane Keith. Fortunately, only one person is known to have
been killed and fewer than 10 people are missing. Scores of homes and some
hotels were damaged on these two resort islands. Several hundred island
residents are homeless. Those without property on the islands or other essential
reason to be there should not attempt to come at this time. Repairs are under
way, and the British Army and Belize Defence Forces are on the islands. Boat and
air service between Belize City and Ambergris and Caulker are resuming. The
islands could welcome visitors again beginning in about two weeks. Hotel damage
reports are included in this update. Most hotels expect to have roof and other
repairs completed within two to four weeks, easily in time for the high season.
Most of mainland Belize had
minimal impact from storm. There was significant flooding in Belize City and on
the Western and Northern highways. No deaths were reported as a direct result of
the storm, but a Venus bus accident on a flooded highway north of Belize City
resulted in the death of three Belizeans. Placencia, Punta Gorda, Cayo, the
Mountain Pine Ridge, Orange Walk and Corozal had little if any damage and should
be back to normal within days. No serious damage was reported to any hotels or
other tourist site or facility in these areas or in Belize City. Airports
including the international airport are now open and international and domestic
airlines are flying again. Most roads are open and passable. After this week,
visitors should experience few if any difficulties traveling in mainland Belize.
Remote cayes report no deaths
or serious injuries and only moderate to light damage to facilities. Most
resorts report no significant damage and expect to reopen for business soon.
Belize officials estimate
damage from the storm will reach US$200 million.
This is an update, as of October 5, 2000, on what happened in Belize due to
Hurricane Keith. As of this writing, telephones (except some cell phones) and
power are still out on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker and so information is
limited and preliminary. The best single source of information, on the Internet
or anywhere, is http://www.AmbergrisCaye.com.
The Webmaster, Marty Casado, is in Oregon and is coordinating telephone, ham
radio and e-mail messages from Belize and elsewhere about the storm, then
posting them on his Web site. (A sad aspect of the hurricane situation is that
an apparently mentally ill individual has been posting messages on the
AmbergrisCaye.com hurricane bulletin board falsely claiming that various hotels
were destroyed and many people killed. This individual, who has plagued Belize
bulletin boards in the past, also has e-mailed persons posting on the bulletin
boards claiming to be raising funds for hurricane relief. Those who receive
suspicious e-mail of this type should consider notifying the sender's Internet
Service Provider and also, if appropriate, police authorities.)
Background: A tropical depression appeared suddenly September 29 off the
coast of Belize and quickly grew into Hurricane Keith. On Saturday morning, Sep.
30, it was a weak tropical depression, and by late in the same day it had become
a Category 3 to 4 hurricane. It all happened so fast that there was little time
to prepare and almost no time to evacuate from the cayes and coastal areas.
Biggest Impact on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker: Belize's most popular
tourist destination, Ambergris Caye, and Belize's best known budget destination,
Caye Caulker, got the brunt of the storm. Winds of 120 mph + pounded the islands
for many hours. Water rose rapidly, especially on the back sides of the island
and may have reached 5 feet or more in height on parts of the islands. One
woman, a U.S. citizen and resident of San Pedro, Kay Smith, has been reported
dead, apparently of drowning. She and her husband, Buddy Smith, who has been
reported missing, were moving a 47-foot catamaran when the storm hit. Before
relocating to Ambergris Caye about a year ago, the Smiths lived in the Bahamas
and previously had lived in North Louisiana. A few other island residents are
still missing or not yet accounted for, but to date no other deaths have been
Ambergris Caye: This resort island, about half the size of Barbados, was
hit worse than any other part of Belize. The storm was unusual in that much of
the wind and flooding came from the west or lagoon side, rather than from the
Caribbean Sea side. A number of buildings, including at least some hotels, lost
roofs or other parts of their structures. The most serious damage appears to
have been to small houses on the back (west) side of the island. Buildings with
zinc or tile roofs in many cases had roof damage; those with concrete roofs
generally made it through the storm without much damage. One of the hardest hit
areas of the island was the section called San Pedrito on the lagoon side, where
officials say an estimated 70% of homes were destroyed.
Some flooding occurred on the east or sea side of the island. A number of homes
were damaged, mostly by winds which uprooted trees and ripped off roofs. Most
hotels appear to have made it okay, although many report leaking or damaged
roofs and some water damage. Among the hotel reports we have: Paradise Villas
reports some roof and floor damage. Villas at Banyan Bay had moderate damage
including loss of roof tiles. Management of Victoria House, which was closed for
renovations in September, said the majority of hotel's rooms "will be open
within the next couple of weeks and the resort should be fully operational by
the end of the month." Two roofs were blown off the Victoria House casitas
and the plantation room buildings but all will be repaired by the end of
October, according to management. The restaurant, new pool and main hotel
building were not damaged and will be the first area to re-open. Caribbean
Villas reports some roof damage and roof tiles blown off and plans to reopen in
about two weeks. Banana Beach and Mata Rocks reported only minimal damage.
Changes in Latitudes reports that it will be closed for at least two weeks to
repair damage to the upper floor. Ramon's Village had considerable damage to its
thatch cabańs. Gary Sagorka, owner of Tropica resort, reported, "Tropica
has not sustained any structure damage to speak of with the exception of roof
shingles only on a here and there basis. There was a minimal amount of water
seepage into a few of the rooms that will require some new plaster board and
painting." The local manager of Tropica, however, lost his home and all
possessions. Cayo Espanto, a luxury resort on a small island in the lagoon on
the back side of Ambergris Caye, reportedly got significant flooding and damage.
On North Ambergris Caye, reports indicate that a number of private homes were
damaged. Journey's End was flooded, Sundiver had damaged roofs and Mata Chica,
which was closed for the month, sustained significant damage. Captain Morgan's,
the Essene Way, El Pescador and Capricorn had some damage, mostly to roofs, but
are still standing. The beach on North Ambergris is "a mess" with a
lot of debris.
Most hotels on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are not accepting guests at this
time and likely will remain closed for at least a few days, some up to a month
Several dozen boats, including dive boats and water taxis, are thought to have
been lost. Sara Vidrine, who with her husband operates a ferry service on the
island, along with a restaurant, marina and other businesses, told a Belize
television reporter: "We sustained incredible damage. The restaurant's
gone, the bar's gone and the Boatyard's gone. The house needs to be totally
redone.â€ť Tropic Air, headquartered in San Pedro, reported that some of its
smaller aircraft were damaged.
Supply boats have been going to San Pedro since at least Tuesday. Removal of
debris on the streets and repairs to buildings have begun. The airstrip is open
and flights from Belize City have resumed. The British army has erected a tent
on the island and is assisting the Belize Defence Force and local police in
maintaining order. Officials are urging that those without property or without
other essential reasons to be on the island should not visit or stay on
Ambergris Caye until power, water, telephones and other services are back in
place. This could take up to two weeks or longer.
One human interest sidelight is that a production crew of several dozen people
from Fox Television Network were on Ambergris Caye finishing the filming of a
"reality-based" TV show, "Temptations," and were caught by
the storm. Reports indicate that they all are okay. Some crew members now have
been flown back to the U.S.
Caye Caulker: This low-lying island south of Ambergris Caye where many of
the buildings are simple frame structures apparently had a number of roofs and
even complete homes blown away. About 30 houses on the island, mostly on the
back side, were destroyed, according to reliable reports. However, there have
been no reports of deaths or serious injuries. Reports are that several hotels
on Caulker have been damaged. At least one report indicated that fresh water and
food was in short supply on Caulker. A supply boat from Belize City delivered
1,000 loaves of bread, which were quickly snapped up. Some restaurants,
including the Yahoo Deli and Sand Box, are preparing and giving away food on a
first-come, first-serve basis. Officials have urged those without property or
other reason to be on Caye Caulker to go to the mainland until essential
services have been put back in working order.
Belize City: Belize City experienced street flooding, in some areas up to
two feet in depth, and some homes and businesses sustained roof or other damage.
Karl Heusner hospital was "extensively damaged" according to Prime
Minister Said Musa, but it remains open. An 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for Belize
City was ordered starting Oct. 3. There have been some robberies and burglaries,
but no looting or other problems have been reported. The international and
municipal airports, temporarily closed due to flooding, have reopened.
International airlines have resumed service to Belize, and Continental has put
larger equipment on the route so that it can carry additional passengers.
Rest of Mainland Belize: There does not appear to have been much storm
damage in other parts of the mainland. Winds apparently never got above 40 mph
in southern Belize (Dangriga, Placencia, Punta Gorda), and there was no storm
surge and apparently no serious damage to beaches or reef. In northern Belize,
there was some rain but the feared storm surge in Corozal/Chetumal Bay did not
happen. In Corozal Town, the power didn't even go out except in isolated areas.
Residents of Corozal Town evacuated, but they soon returned to find no damage.
Sarteneja got some wind and water but no serious problems are reported. Inland
in Cayo and Orange Walk districts, rivers were high --the Macal was reported to
be up to 20 feet above normal -- and there was moderate rain and some flooding,
and some damage to agricultural crops, but the situation was nothing remotely
like what happened in Honduras or Guatemala after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The
Western Highway was closed to most vehicles for a time but has now reopened.
While not directly related to the hurricane, three Belizeans were killed after a
Venus bus plunged into a rain-swollen creek near Mile 65 of the Northern Highway
in an area known as Mamayel. After this week, after river levels fall and any
flooding is over, visitors to any area of mainland Belize should experience few
if any travel problems. Virtually all hotels and tourist facilities on the
mainland are now, or soon will be, operating normally.
Remote Cayes: Reports from outlying islands and resorts including
Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe, Spanish Bay and Caye Chapel all report that all on
the islands are okay. So far, resorts on the islands are reporting only light to
Relief: Donations for Belize relief can be made through the American Red
BELIZE FIRST will issue a fuller report on the impact of Hurricane Keith in
Belize after all the facts are clear.
One question that we're getting a lot is "We have a trip planned to Belize
-- should we still plan on coming?" The best answer we can give at this
point is: Stand by for more news, but things will get back to normal soon,
indeed a lot sooner than you may think. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker aren't
going to be ready for visitors for several weeks, but most of the rest of the
Belize, including Placencia, Hopkins, Cayo and PG, haven't had any damage to the
tourism infrastructure and are fully ready for visitors. The worst thing you
could do is cancel a trip based on rumor or an ill-informed, sensationalized
newscast on CNN or other network. Tourism is vital for Belize, and it is hoped
that visitors won't cancel vacation plans needlessly.
Editor & Publisher
This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1996-2000
Belize First Magazine. All rights reserved.