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Nov 3, 2021

60 years ago: Memories of Hurricane Hattie Shared by Survivors

This past weekend marked the sixtieth anniversary of Hurricane Hattie, a storm that killed three hundred and nineteen people in Belize on October thirty-first, 1961. Weather maps show that the hurricane had initially taken a northerly path along Honduras and was projected to strike Cuba. Belize was almost in the clear, when the storm suddenly changed trajectory and made a shocking U-turn, heading west-southwest. It made landfall between the Belize and Stann Creek districts. Belize City suffered the brunt of the damage, with maximum hurricane force winds of one hundred and sixty-five miles per hour. While there have been countless news reports since then recapping what transpired that awful night, we decided to draw from the memories of survivors to share with younger people who were not around then. The magnitude of a strong category four hurricane such as Hattie, and the long-lasting devastation storms of that strength can unleash on a low-lying, densely-populated coastal community like Belize City should never be forgotten, even as this year’s hurricane season winds down. Marion Ali reports.


Nick Pollard

Nick Pollard, Hurricane Hattie survivor

 “It was heading straight for Cuba, and like a boomerang it turned back and came straight for Belize.”


Marion Ali, Reporting

Its visit sixty years ago wiped away many of the wooden structures that constituted the Belize City landscape, and a lot of harrowing stories have come out of the weather phenomenon named Hattie – a name that is permanently retired from the hurricane list because of its devastating blow upon us. It left survivors like Nick Pollard and Cathrene Zelaya with memories that can be lessons for others.


Nick Pollard

“When the surge came, the building just shook. That was the first one – it was very scary.”


Marion Ali

“Wasn’t that a cement building?”


Nick Pollard

“That’s a concrete and steel building, but remember we were dealing with a category five storm with heavy winds that brought in huge seas. And when the second one hit, the building really trembled.  And everybody was so scared and praying.”


Cathrene Zelaya

Cathrene Zelaya, Hurricane Hattie survivor

“The most frightening part came when I realized that the house was going to collapse on us. My mom was praying really hard and I literally remember the walls coming down and my mom and this woman scampering to shove us under a table. And the house literally collapsed on us.”


Dave Reimer and his family had just arrived in Spanish Lookout from Mexico and because they had no radio, found out about the hurricane when they had to divert to Belize City with their produce.


Dave Reimer

Dave Reimer, Hurricane Hattie survivor

“When we got on top of that bridge at mile six over the canal, there was water all around us, so we felt like we were in the middle of the ocean. I had not seen anything as rough as that. Most houses were – a lot of them were completely gone and some of them were just partially there.”


Nick Pollard says he discovered just how much damage the storm had inflicted when one could walk on debris floating on flood waters as if it was the Earth itself!


Nick Pollard

“When I looked down the water was all the way up to the level of the first floor but the thing is that it wasn’t only water. The debris in the river was so thick that one could walk across the debris without sinking. It was that bad!”


Cathrene Zelaya said that Hattie left her with a lingering question she still cannot answer.


Cathrene Zalaya

“How on Earth did we survive, you know, knowing that Hattie was such a strong storm?”


Marion Ali

“And the water was rising right?”


Cathrene Zelaya

“It was rising; I remember that because whenever we felt it at our chest my mom would be shifting us continuously. She kept shifting and moving wood. It’s a good thing we were small children, but I don’t know how we survived, honestly.”


Marion Ali for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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