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Hurricane Iris, Belize, 8 October 2001
Belize, 8 October 2001

Situation Report 3
10 October 2001

Background

Seven weeks after Tropical Storm Chantal hit Belize and just one year since Hurricane Keith, a category four hurricane, Iris, battered the southern part of the country. Iris was the worst hurricane to hit Belize since Hurricane Hattie in 1961, and the first to hit the southern part of the country since 1942.

Hurricane Iris threatened Belize on Saturday, 6 October as a Category I hurricane but advanced to a category 4 by the night of Sunday, 7 October.

Iris continued in a westward direction with sustained winds of 140 mph moving at around 20 mph, putting the whole country of Belize at risk. As it moved toward the coast, it veered slightly in a southwestern direction, finally making landfall at around 8:00 p.m. on 9 October. The eye moved swiftly and relentlessly between Placencia and Monkey River, hammering southern populations as it crossed the country into the mountains of Guatemala over the course of the night, leaving a path approximately 30 miles wide of destroyed agricultural areas, forests and communities. The districts most affected were the southern districts of Stann Creek and Toledo, while the rest of the country remained operational. Nevertheless, communities along the coast from Belize City to the Toledo District and the islands were evacuated.

The Impact of Iris

The damage caused by the impact of Iris was largely due to the devastating winds and the storm surge. The rainfall was only 3-4 inches, causing flooding to occur in localised areas. The following are the main areas of concern:

Population

The impact of Iris on the southern coast of Belize has been devastating, leaving 22 people confirmed dead and another 8 still unconfirmed. A large number of people suffered injuries mainly as a result of flying debris, and over 10,000 people were left homeless. There are also some communities, approximately 3000 people, isolated due to the damage to roads and bridges. Although the NEMO report shows that only 3,000 people were evacuated to shelters, there were a large number of people who evacuated their homes to stay with relatives or friends.

Although there were not many casualties, the populations in the affected communities have been left without shelter, food or water.

It is estimated that approximately 50,000 will be directly affected (approximately 30% of the total population) and will be at risk for adverse health conditions.

Water and Sanitation

A safe, potable water supply is a critical issue. Water supply has been disrupted in all these areas. Although most of the reservoirs are standing, water lines are broken. There is noticeable contamination stemming from flooded septic tanks, latrines, solid waste dumpsites, oil and gasoline spills.

Mounds of debris are deposited all over the affected communities, making it difficult to conduct sanitation and vector control activities.

Food and Shelter

Due to the extensive impact on housing, the majority of the food supply was lost due the rain and wind. Those returning to the affected area are residing in damaged, roofless, and flooded houses without water, food, or electricity. Due to reported looting and fear of losing their few remaining possessions, people are reluctant to leave their homes.

The health centers in the affected communities (20) suffered wind and rain damage. Diagnostic equipment and a three-month supply of medical provisions were lost. The Toledo District Hospital suffered roof damages.

Public health programs have been interrupted and there is a great demand for post-emergency interventions due to the vulnerable access of the population to food and water.

Immediately after Hurricane Iris struck Belize, the all clear medical teams as well as supplies were deployed to the affected communities. The Ministry of Health from Mexico has responded with two medical teams and post-hurricane medical supplies.

Mental Health

The impact on mental health is evident. The villagers are traumatized due to the massive loss of property. There is a high level of distress, anxiety and helplessness among the villagers and local authorities.

Since most of the schools suffered damages, and due to the general conditions surrounding the communities, classes have been suspended in the southern part of the country. A number of children have been seen wondering and playing amidst the contaminated water and debris.

Infrastructure

At least 20 communities experienced the full force of Hurricane Iris. Homes were severely damaged, ranging from 95% destruction along coastal communities to 50% as the hurricane moved inland, and was largely due to the tidal surge of approximately 10 feet and the strong winds. Twenty-one government buildings were damaged, of which 11 were completely destroyed, including schools, community centers and police stations.

Public utilities were also severely damaged, especially in rural communities. Power and telephone lines collapsed due to strong winds. There is no electricity in any of the affected communities. Piers along the southern coast were completely destroyed.

Although the main roads are passable, there are some communities completely isolated due to flooding and fallen trees, transmission lines, or other debris.

As Iris made its way through the mountains in Guatemala, it was expected that flooding would occur in the districts of Toledo, Stann Creek, Cayo and Belize.

Economic Impact

Agriculture and tourism are the principle economic activities in Belize, especially in these two southern district afore mentioned. Banana and Citrus are the main agriculture exports of Belize. It is reported that 85% of the banana crops were destroyed. The citrus industry has also suffered some damage. Aquaculture is also one of the main activities in the South, and the extent of damage to this industry has not yet been determined.

Tourism is the main source of income for the affected coastline communities. Due to the devastating impact of the strong winds and the storm surge, this industry has suffered a tremendous loss, which will take a long time to recover.


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