REPORT ON IMPACT OF HURRICANE KEITH ON BELIZE: November 16, 2000
Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker were hit hard by Hurricane Keith.
Fortunately, loss of life was not great. Fewer than 5 people are known dead
or are still missing. Scores of homes and some hotels were badly damaged on
these two resort islands. Several hundred island residents are still
homeless. Repairs are under way. Boat and air service between Belize City
and Ambergris and Caulker have resumed. Power and cell phone service has
been restored to parts of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. Most Ambergris
Caye hotels expect to have roof and other repairs completed by December 1 or
earlier, in time for the high season; it may take longer on Caulker. The
islands began welcoming visitors again in early November. Hotel damage
assessments, where available, are included in this report. The reef suffered
no damage, so diving and snorkeling remain excellent. Remote cayes report
no deaths or serious injuries and mostly light damage to facilities.
Mainland Belize had minimal impact from storm. However, flooding following
the storm caused problems in low-lying areas along rivers and lagoons,
especially in northern Belize. There was flooding in Belize City and on the
Western and Northern highways. Some road surfaces were damaged by water.
Crooked Tree had serious flooding. Flooding also took place along the Hondo
and New rivers. The Blue Creek Mennonite community in Orange Walk District
had severe flooding and expects losses of US$3 million. No mainland 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. An Irish volunteer worker in Cayo was killed delivering hurricane
supplies when he fell off a pick-up truck. Placencia, Punta Gorda, Cayo, the
Mountain Pine Ridge, Orange Walk and Corozal had little if any damage and
were 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 are open and international and domestic airlines are flying regular
schedules. All roads are open. Visitors should experience few if any
difficulties traveling in mainland Belize.
- Belize officials estimate damage from the storm will reach US$250 million.
Tourist arrivals in Belize were down 30% in October due to the hurricane but
are expected to rebound soon.
Details of the Storm
This is an update, as of November 16, 2000, on what happened in Belize due to
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 hurricane. It all happened so fast that there was
little time to prepare and almost no time to evacuate from the cayes and
Current Status: Power and telephones have been restored in nearly all areas
of the mainland and on part of Ambergris Caye. However, communication with
Caye Caulker and parts of North Ambergris Caye remains spotty. Hotels all
over Belize are welcoming visitors. The best single source of information,
on the Internet or anywhere, was www.AmbergrisCaye.com. The Webmaster, Marty
Casado, was in Oregon and coordinated 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
and Belize by Naturalight sites 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.)
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, and the body of
her husband, Buddy Smith, also has been found. They 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. Another body has been found in
the water, and it is thought to be a crew member from the cat. Several other
island residents are not yet accounted for, but to date no other deaths have
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 also 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 but most units are
operating. Next door, Paradise Resort Hotel, an older property with thatch
construction, suffered significant damage. Mayan Princess and other concrete
hotels in town had little damage. Elvi's Restaurant on Middle Street was
seriously damaged and is closed; it may reopen in another location or
South of town, the SunBreeze and Belizean Reef are in good shape. Ramon's
Village had severe damage to its suites, heavy damage to the restaurant and
bar and some damage to cabañs. It reopened most of the facility in
mid-November. The Playador/Exotic Caye had a lot of damage including roofs
blown away; reopening date is unknown. Villas at Banyan Bay had limited
damage including loss of roof tiles. The Palms had little damage except for
some roof tiles lost. Management of Victoria House, which was closed for
renovations in September, said the majority of the hotel's rooms were
expected to be open in early November Two roofs were blown off the Victoria
House casitas and the plantation room buildings but all have been repaired.
The restaurant, new pool and main hotel building were not damaged and will be
the first area to re-open. Caribbean Villas reported some roof damage and
roof tiles blown off but has made repairs and has reopened. Banana Beach
and Mata Rocks reported only minimal damage. Changes in Latitudes was
closed until late October to repair damage to the upper floor. The Hideaway
had roof and water damage; owners say they don't know when they will reopen.
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 but has now
reopened. (Cayo Expanto was featured in a recent issue of a national travel
magazine.) The budget favorite in San Pedro, Ruby's, got some flooding
damage on the first floor but is back in business.
On North Ambergris Caye, reports indicate that a number of private homes
were damaged. Journey's End was flooded, and Sundiver (formerly Caye Resort)
had damaged roofs. Mata Chica sustained significant damage due to the
thatch-style roofs. The owners report they plan to reopen Dec. 15. Captain
Morgan's and the Essene Way reportedly had significant damage and still have
no electricity, except for generators. Essene Way lost some of its solar
panels. El Pescador and Capricorn had limited damage and will be open again
in late November after power is restored. The beach on North Ambergris was
reported as "a mess" with a lot of debris, though much of this has now been
cleaned up. Electricity on parts of North Ambergris may not be fully
restored until after the first of the New Year.
Most hotels on Ambergris Caye and on Caye Caulker are now accepting guests
again. The Belize Tourist Board estimates that Ambergris Caye will be fully
ready to accept visitors by (U.S.) Thanksgiving.
The reef appears to have been undamaged, and diving and snorkeling remain
Several dozen boats, including dive boats and water taxis, are thought to
have been lost in the storm. Sari 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." The ferry has now resumed operations.
Tropic Air, based in San Pedro, reported that some of its smaller aircraft
The island has plenty of food and water. Removal of debris on the streets and
repairs to buildings are underway. The airstrip is open and flights from
Belize City have resumed. Electricity, water and telephone services is
back in most areas of the south part of the island.
One human interest sidelight is that a production crew of several dozen
people from Fox Television were on Ambergris finishing the filming of a
"reality-based" TV show, "Temptations," and were caught by the storm. Crew
members are okay and have returned to the U.S.
Caye Caulker: This low-lying island south of Ambergris Caye where many of
the buildings are simple frame structures 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 were no
deaths. Reports are that several hotels on Caulker were damaged. Tina's Bak
Pak Hostel was seriously damaged and is closed. The BTB estimates that
Caulker could be accepting visitors by Thanksgiving, and recent visitors to
the island note that electricity is back on in most areas, though telephone
service is still not reliable. Hotels are eagerly welcoming visitors. The
main remaining evidences of the storm are the denuded coco palm trees.
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. There were some robberies and
burglaries, but no looting was reported. The international and municipal
airports, temporarily closed due to flooding, have reopened. All curfews on
the mainland have been lifted.
Rest of Mainland Belize: There was not 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 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 rain and
flooding, and millions of dollars of damage to sugar and other agricultural
crops. Rains after the storm caused problems for small farmers in northern
Belize. Reports are that hundreds of cattle and other livestock died due to
flooding of pastures. 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, and
an Irish volunteer died in a road accident. 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 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. Resorts on the islands reported only only light to
Relief: Donations for Belize relief can be made through the American Red
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 is: Things
will get back to normal soon, indeed a lot sooner than you may think.
Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are now welcoming visitors, although some
hotels on North Ambergris Caye are still without electricity and are still
undergoing repairs. 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 television or half-baked Internet
reports. Tourism is vital for Belize, and it is hoped that visitors won't
cancel vacation plans needlessly.
Editor & Publisher
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