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Oct 20, 2011

Hurricane Hattie; 50 years after

Hurricane Hattie was one of the worst to hit Belize. It caused untold destruction and human loss. The Museum of Belize, Belize Archives and Records as well as the Craig Family have compiled photographs and other images that tell the story of the pre and post hurricane Hattie. That exhibition opens on Monday, but today News Five’s Delahnie Bain got a peak of wanton destruction caused by the hurricane.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting

In 1961 Belize experienced the most dreadful Halloween, when Hurricane Hattie ravaged the country. The category five storm left hundreds dead and turned entire communities into rubble at a time that was to be celebratory and when the people had high hopes for change in the country.

Shari Williams, Communications Officer, NICH

Shari Williams

“In 1961 the atmosphere of Belize was an atmosphere of nation building; people were ready for a change. In March of that year, they’d had a general election and selected a new government. They had just celebrated the hundred and sixty-third anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye and so people had a vision of a new Belize. And in October of that year after Hurricane Hattie devastated the country, the entire atmosphere of the people changed.”

The atmosphere became one of sorrow and survival; while some tried to pick up the pieces, others resorted to looting and violence.  It is among the worst natural disasters in the country’s history, causing millions of dollars in damages. And now, fifty years later, an exhibit is being launched at the Museum of Belize highlighting both the destruction and recovery.

Shari Williams

“The Museum of Belize in collaboration with the Craig family collection and the National Archives and Records are proud to present a new exhibit. It’s called the Eye of the Storm; Hurricane Hattie 50 Years Later. We felt that it was very important to look back fifty years after Hurricane Hattie. And you might be wondering why Hurricane Hattie because in the course of our history we’ve have about sixteen hurricanes. Well we felt that hurricane Hattie was one of those hurricanes that changed the course of Belizean history.  Hurricane Hattie with wind gusts of over two hundred miles per hour, it devastated Belize. Approximately three hundred people died; devastation was reported from north to south, from Corozal to Toledo. So it was very, very important to look back and see how we have grown as a nation.”

The development since Hattie includes not only rebuilding, but the emergence of new communities.

Shari Williams

“Silk Grass was one of those communities that developed after hurricane Hattie. I didn’t know that. So we have communities that came forth after hurricane Hattie, like Hattieville as we all know. The capital changed from Belize City to Belmopan. So Hurricane Hattie was definitely one of those hurricanes that change the course of our nation history and so it was important to depict that. It was very important to share with especially the younger generation what it was like and the resilience of the Belizean people in picking up the pieces and moving from there. It is a lot of information and the curators actually went a step further, beyond that and a part of the exhibit is about all the hurricanes. It’s about preparations and all the rest of it and there’s a section of it that deals only with Hurricane Hattie so there’s an introduction to the hurricanes that have hit Belize over the years and then it goes right into Hattie. Definitely we couldn’t share everything and there is new information coming on every day.”

The detailed exhibit serves as a valuable history lesson and Shari Williams, the Communications Officer for the National Institute of Culture and History, is encouraging schools to bring out their students to view it.

Shari Williams

“It officially opens next week and it’s going to be here for quite some time so we invite people, especially the schools, bring in the school children. It’s a wonderful exhibition, it portrays—it’s a lot of, lot of information to garner from it so we’re inviting people to drop in at your convenience and take your time and walk through the exhibit. One thing I really like is that there’s an actual shack that’s built and you can actually go inside and stand and feel what the winds were like in 1961 during hurricane Hattie.”

An invitation is also extended to anyone who might have items from the time of Hurricane Hattie to add to the exhibit. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

The Museum is opened from Tuesday to Saturday, eight a.m. to four-thirty p.m.

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2 Responses for “Hurricane Hattie; 50 years after”

  1. Lucas says:

    I was a Little kid then living with my grandmother along with three older siblings and four cousins. I have no idea at what time the hurricane struck but, I remember vividly waking up and seeing my grand-mother with her ear attached to a big radio that used a big battery like of a car. She was listening to the faint voice of radio Belize. I could hear the wind howling and the rain pouring. Suddenly, part of the thatched roof flew away and I could see the dark sky and the rain pouring on my wooden bed. The radio went silent and all nine of us huddled in a corner. The house would shake often and everytime it did, I could hear my old grandmother cry . QUE DIOS NOS AMPARE Y NOS FAVORESCA. Sometime later, we heard knocks on the door. It were neighbours. Two men who lived with their mother. Their roof had been completely blown away. Fearing our house would come down any moment, it was decided to better vacate. We divide in two groups and each group took refuge at the corner outside the house. We were told that if the house falls, we must not run forward because the falling house may overtake us. We were to run to the side. It looked like the house would not fall suddenly and it gave time to the two men who had taken refuge with us, to pick three post which we had for a new house, and braced the house which was about to fall anytime. When the hurricane past, I could see the ground covered with grapefruits. That night, we slept at a neighbour,s house which was newer and had withstoode the winds. That night, I could hear a sound like of a truck coming in the distance. It was the river that was making the noise. In the morning, the river had overflowed. All the houses near the bank were covered or partially covered. The river rose two streets into the town. WE were uncomunicated. Two days later, British Army helicopters landed on the football field. They brought pinto beans, oil, sugar, milk, coffee and blankets.

  2. Charlie Price says:

    Lucas…thank you for your story…quite touching.

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