1931 Hurricane myth disputed
What do you know about the 1931 Hurricane? Probably not much except that it came without warning and caused massive destruction. Well if you’re one of those persons, what you’re about to see and hear might just shock you.
Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting
For almost seven decades we’ve heard from our ancestors and teachers that the 1931 Hurricane, which claimed over two thousand lives and ravaged Belize Town without warning. That tale, however, is being challenged by The Belize Historical Society. The organisation under the presidency of Emory King has published an archival piece entitled “The Hurricane of 1931″ which debunks that myth.
Emory King, President, Belize Historical Society
“Well, it’s absolutely incredible that the people who were in charge of the safety of the people of this country would have ignored continuous warnings for three days that a hurricane was coming. That the storm was coming, that ships were fleeing from the Caribbean and to ports and to just say… Well I don’t know what they said, but the result was that the authorities, the governor, the Colonial Secretary and the members of the executive council decided that they wouldn’t tell anybody about the hurricane, just go on with the parade for the Tenth of September and the school children’s’ outing and the friendly society march. The result was that two thousand people got killed.”
The two thousand people killed in the hurricane, property damage, along with the numerous warnings that the then Colonial Secretary Pillings ignored, were stated in a letter that Donald N. A. Fairweather, radio operator at the time, wrote to Pillings on September twenty-fourth, 1931.
King found the letter in the archives and decided to make it public knowledge two weeks before Hurricane Keith.
“I found it in a book called “Cyclone” by Ernest E. Cain. Mr. Cain was the editor of the Belize Independent Newspaper and he was also an author along with Monrad Metskin. They published the handbook of British Honduras in 1925 and he had published his newspaper for many years prior to that. He was very, very, touched by the disaster and the loss of life by the hurricane and wrote this book. He compiled as much information about the hurricane and called the book “Cyclone.” He also has that official report from Fairweather to the Colonial Secretary two weeks after the storm was over documenting; virtually day by day, hour by hour, the report that they were getting from Washington and New Orleans from ships at sea warning that the storm was coming and will probably hit British Honduras and possibly Belize Town on Thursday the tenth of September.”
The article states that the first report of the storm was received on Tuesday morning, September eighth. It was reported as a tropical disturbance of moderate intensity, one hundred and fifty miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, moving west northwestward over the Caribbean Sea. When the ominous message came that three hurricanes would move across British Honduras near Belize early in the afternoon of September tenth, Fairweather had already posted several notices at the foot of the swing bridge. However, during a time of celebration and merrymaking, who would have time to pay attention to notices at the bridge? And what would be the motive for the authorities not to inform the masses of an impending hurricane?
“Perhaps none of them had ever been in a hurricane and didn’t know exactly how bad it was going to be, couldn’t conceive of the destruction of this town and some of the out-lying cayes like St. George’s Caye. A number of very prominent families were utterly destroyed on St. George’s Caye and here in the city, two thousand people. Some entire sections of town like Queen Charlotte Town, wiped out almost to the last person, very, very few survivors. St. John’s College went down; Wesley College went down, Wesley Church, St. Mary’s Church on and on. It was a major disaster.”
It’s hoped that the article will help to clear the air about the age-old myth that the 1931 hurricane came without any warning.
“For the past fifty years or more everybody said that the hurricane hit without any warning. We didn’t know it was coming. It mashed up the city and killed all those people because they didn’t name storms in those days. We didn’t have radar and there was no communication. I spoke to several professors of history here in the city who said “Oh yes, that’s right here was no warning.” Absolutely not. I spoke to politicians and civil servants “No, no. We didn’t have warning, we didn’t know.” Now these people were not alive at the time so they are only saying what people told them. What they hear from their parents and school teachers.”
And what they heard is simply not so! At least from the piece of history D.N.A. Fairweather documented. Ann-Marie Williams for News Five.
We’d just like to remind you that we’re still in the hurricane season; it doesn’t end until November thirtieth