Hurricanes in Belize

Hurricane Mitch 1998

Hurricane threats are a fact of life in the Caribbean, and Belize is no exception. Every summer we grow increasingly worried as late summer and fall approach, for hurricane season lasts from On average, a major hurricane with widespread destruction hits Belize every 30 years. Belize City has been destroyed several times in the last century alone. Hurricane Hattie lead the government to move the capitol inland, creating Belmopan. This Category 5 hurricane hit Belize on Halloween in 1961. The hurricane that impacted us the most in the past 26 years was Mitch, which greatly affected our island at Glover’s Reef, although it did not make a direct hit to the country at all. Mitch killed 11,000 people in the surrounding region and wrecked the entire coast of Belize with the large surf it sent roaring into the coast. We lost our Dining Hall and 3 of our cabanas. Oddly enough, although our kayaks were found all over the island after the nine-day storm, we only lost one.

Hurricane Ivan 2004

Out on Long Caye at Glover’s Reef, we are particularly vulnerable to storms, although violent storms are responsible for the formation of the island to begin with. The island is nothing more than a pile of rubble thrown up by big storms in the protecting lee of the atoll’s ring reef. However, archeological evidence (Mayan artifacts) indicate that even though the island experiences big storm events on a regular basis, the land itself has not been swept away for thousands of years. When big storms hit, the wind may strip the palms of their leaf, but the trees and other vegetation survive and quickly grow back. The waves that break on the reef do wash across the island, and may re-arrange sections of the shoreline, but on our lee shore much sand is re-deposited and the island actually grows in size.

Hurricane wave damage at Glovers ReefAt right and above are images of Hurricane Ivan, which hit the tip of Cuba in 2004, but sent waves 500 miles to wash over our shore and knock down one of our docks.

Our biggest threat to hurricanes is with our infrastructure. The waves that do wash across the island tend to undercut the foundations of our cabins on the shoreline, which then fall over. We have lost seven buildings over the years to this erosional force, but we build them with this eventuality in mind, with a simple and rustic style, so that replacing them is not a problem. We have had many ‘wave’ events from passing storms (we had two last summer), and we are set up to bear the damage with little setback to our maintenance plan. Yet every year we do have quite a large repair and clean-up project to undertake to get the island back in shape. It is not all fun and games maintaining an island paradise so far out to sea, exposed to the fickle and violent Caribbean weather!

To see more images of Long Caye hurricanes, visit an earlier blog post: http://belizeadventure.com/2010/10/a-tale-of-two-hurricanes/